Assessing where duty lies1/28/2001 07:00:00 PM Eastern
It's not uncommon for people in trouble or in and out of prison-or a little of both, as with the escaped Texas inmates in Colorado Springs, Colo., last week-to reach out to people on television. And TV people are often receptive.
Geraldo Rivera became famous in his early years as a reporter for his personal involvement with people's stories. The legendary Chicago reporter Russ Ewing at WLS-TV has had more than 100 criminal suspects turn themselves in to him before they turned themselves in to police. If they didn't trust the police, police would ask them whom they would trust. They trusted Russ Ewing.
And years ago in Chicago, WBBM-TV reporter Giselle Fernandez was criticized for taking a speed-boat ride, complete with a pizza lunch, with a drug dealer and his friends before he turned himself in. It didn't seem to hurt her career.
"There's a trust factor," says Jim Vance, longtime anchor at WRC-TV Washington. "I was told a long time ago that [broadcast journalists] want to make ourselves welcome in the most intimate parts of people's homes. But they will feel free to call you when they get in trouble. That speaks to a level of responsibility a lot of us don't think about. I know there are reporters who would love to find themselves in a situation like that for career purposes. Perhaps because I've been through it, I think it's something we need to avoid."
Vance was the only reporter behind the scenes at a District of Columbia federal jail takeover in 1974. "It is not all that pleasant a memory," he recalls. Vance spent four days as the only reporter inside the cell block; filing reports by phone, passing notes outside, and he once was interviewed through the crack in a door by old friend and classmate Ed Bradley, then a CBS correspondent.
"It was wonderful for me as a journalist," Vance recollects more than a quarter-century later. "But there was never a moment that I didn't have misgivings. I was thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here? I'm becoming part of the story.'"
In Colorado Springs, however, Vance notes, Eric Singer worked under "the guidance of people who really know what they are doing" and "the consequences of not participating could be severe. It's almost a no-brainer."