I will admit there are days when all of us wonder if our reporting is having an impact. It is awfully hard to measure just how our work... (even IF our work) affects the people it's intended to. That is why this is a great day. Frieda Morris, our superb New Orleans Bureau Chief, sent me a FedEx box today, and inside were gifts from viewers in New Orleans. Gifts that people had dropped off for me at our NBC Station in New Orleans, WDSU. Think for a moment about what that entails: people I have never met took the time to go to the store and purchase something... all of them wrote an accompanying card or letter... and they did it to thank us for coming to their city again and again to cover their plight and their recovery. From where I sit, it is an act of deep meaning and incredible generosity... and is one of the nicest things that has happened to me in this job. When I was asked last week by Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post if I was on a "crusade" for New Orleans, I denied it, because of the pejorative connotations of the word he used, and because of my aversion to expressing an opinion about the subjects I cover for a living. My answer, adjusted upon reflection, is that I have always had a deep affection for the Crescent City and its inhabitants, and having been there for Katrina and the aftermath, it most assuredly is now an indelible part of my life... and has become a big reporting commitment (along with the entire storm region) for this network news division. I will probably never meet the kind people who have sent me these nice gifts, but on the off chance that they are visitors to this space: thank you so very much.
THOROUGHLY CHANGEABLE THURSDAY
My broadcast day started at 7:40 a.m. seated next to my buddy Matt Lauer, for an appearance on "Today," on behalf of National Geographic (Video link). I have written the introduction for a new book called "Dear Mr. President" (PDF link)... a collection ( smart readers have no doubt guessed), of letters to the Chief Executive. I was chosen by dint of my childhood effort, on a lined pad of paper from the supermarket (PDF link), to cheer up a slumping (literally, in that famous photo of him, above, at the Cabinet Room table) Lyndon Johnson... a letter I later found out had actually made its way into the President's stack of daily reading. It sure wasn't because of the quality of the spelling or the artwork. It's been a fun project, it's a great book, and I hope it inspires young people to do the same. From there it was onto Imus an hour later (with Charles McCord substituting for the sick host) and then our morning editorial meeting... more of a vague collection of "possibles" for today.
As for our afternoon meeting, it's looking like this for tonight: A breaking medical story that may be of wide interest and import, the killing of the hostage in Iraq (the first of its kind in a year there, an awful benchmark and a human tragedy), the real crisis families are facing over how to pay for home heating this season, and the struggles now being faced at the largest employer in New Orleans: Tulane University. Kerry Sanders has a troubling but well-told story from the aforementioned Crescent City tonight.
And a special note: those of you who are John Lennon fans (for whom this is a very dark day) and/or those of you interested in the history of television news will want to see how our broadcast handles the 25th anniversary of John's murder tonight. It is evocative and chilling, as is the crowd gathered in Central Park as night falls... all of them gathered around one word carved in stone: IMAGINE.
SO THAT'S WHY SHE'S SO GOOD...
For the past 24 hours I've been watching one woman dominate three cable news networks, three broadcast network morning programs and even last night's Nightline. Her name is Mary Gardner. She happened to witness the incident on board the American Airlines flight yesterday in Miami that ended with the killing of a man. I remarked to more than one colleague about just how well-spoken Ms. Gardner was on television. At this morning's editorial meeting (one of the several instances during this day when, I kid you not, her image was on all three cable news channels simultaneously), I said she was "better than most media professionals." There's a good reason for that. I Googled Mary Gardner. Take a look. This will save you the trouble. Read her bio. She IS a media professional. A former aide to Senator Paul Laxalt, a former anchorwoman, she now trains others in how to be media professionals. The lesson here? The people who are really good at television command our attention, no matter the circumstances surrounding their appearance in the media.
Back to the media professionals: we hope you'll join us for tonight's effort.