Use It or Lose It?

The Incident

We had an assistant principal cornered in an interview a few years ago.  

A couple of freshmen chose not to stand during a performance of the National Anthem at an outdoor, all-school assembly at the football stadium.  This same AP was in the Army Reserve, and he was a proud military man.  As the song ended, and he saw the students still sitting, he pulled them aside, just a few feet away from the bleachers where about 1,300 students were sitting.  Then he really let them have it.  He chewed them out big-time. 

All of this took place in front of maybe 75 or 80 teachers and students  who were within ear shot.  Lots of other people saw it, even if they were too far away to hear the tirade.  One of the people who heard it suggested it would be a great story.  That person was me.

The Interview

Our HTV team (reporter/photog) asked for an interview about patriotism, and the AP consented.  At a point fairly late in the interview, our reporter, after hearing how important patriotism was, asked about those who do not always show it, like the kids at the stadium.  The administrator looked at our her, and then, as he explained he was not going to discuss the incident, he put his hand over the lens of the camera and said, "Let's shut that off, please."  

After explaining he would not talk about the incident, he agreed to continue the interview.  Two questions later, my reporter asked him again about the students he blasted in front of the student body.  Again, the hand went over the lens, and we got sound of him saying, "Turn the camera off. I told you I'm not going to talk about that."

Our story was about showing patriotism, and how much you should show, when you should show it, and if you had a right not to show it.  When our team brought the footage into the studio there was a huge buzz.  The staff was gathering around and almost every kid was in favor of using the audio and video of the AP's refusal to discuss the incident.  But we didn't.

The Decision

Just because you know it, doesn't mean you show it.  That may be a somewhat inelegant phrase, but it works.  While the footage of the administrator putting his hand over the lens--the ultimate, almost iconic visual of "censorship" in any setting--we decided after much discussion that it would totally cost the story its focus.  Patriotism was the topic, and an assistant principal refusing to discuss school discipline, even if he handled it in an all-too-public way--was his right.  In fact, discussing student discipline on camera would have been a violation of district policy that could have gotten the administrator into trouble.  Of course, our point initially was there was nothing private about the discipline.  A lot of people saw it as it took place near the bleachers full of kids.

The story finally ran without using the dramatic footage of the hand over the lens.  In fact, we erased it from the tape, and it was never seen by anyone except the HTV staff.  Oh, and the story came out just fine.