At a seminar some years ago, a newspaper editor declared that if he walked out of his office building and saw a purse-snatcher robbing an unaccompanied woman, he would take notes for a news story, but he wouldn't go to her and/or call the police.
Because, he said, a journalist is a creature of professional detachment who must report events without participating.
Calling the cops would be an unacceptable form of participation.
To which I say: Nuts. He makes me want to throw up.
That editor is over-educated, but under-smart. He's apparently not versed in the Golden Rule about "do unto others" stuff.
He's a medical science story about the vanishing backbone. He was born with one, but it vanished after he grew up.
Somewhere along the line, he conveniently forgot all the men and women from Valley Forge to Mosul who died in service to this nation so that such as him could grow up in freedom, free to spout such trash.
He forgot that freedom of the press comes not from the journalist but from the soldier. He forgot that he's been able to stay "objective" and "detached" only because those who died weren’t.
When you die for a cause, that's as committed as it gets.
If it hadn’t been for all those soldiers, airmen, Navy folks or Marines who served and defended this nation, I doubt he’d have had the privilege of talking trash, overflowing with crap like a backed up toilet.
If your job gets in the way of acting like a good citizen and a decent human being when the situation requires it, you ought to lay aside your job -- at least long enough to call the cops. That's common sense, and it's the right thing to do.
When you claim to be above the responsibilities of helping your fellow man, woman, or child, you're saying there's no higher moral ethic or higher standard to which an individual should hew.
And when you do away higher ethics, you get things like draft-dodging, Enron, WorldCom, arson and looting, and the latest school shooting.
You get the true story of the guy who pulled the lifejacket off a little girl in a pond as they both struggled not to drown. With the lifejacket, he saved himself. Stripped of the lifejacket, the little girl drowned. He went to prison for what he did.
When higher ethics cease to exist, and the last Good Samaritan dies, you're left with Me-ism. That's best defined as: "I'm for me, and the hell with you."
There's an old tale which goes: "When Hitler came for the Jews, I stood by -- wasn't my fight. Then he came for the Czechs. I stood by -- wasn't my fight. Then he came for red-haired people, and the sick and the mentally defective. I stood by -- wasn't my fight. Then he came for me, and there was no one left to fight for me."
Years ago, I had to choose between staying a detached reporter, and getting involved with a developing situation.
In another state, I once worked for a small newspaper. There had been a crash, a bad one, a short distance from the office. I grabbed my camera and took off for the scene.
I got there before almost anyone else. It was a mess. There was tangled wreckage of two vehicles which police said had slammed into each other head-on at 60 mph. Parts of the vehicles were strewn all over. There was a mingled stink of grease and gasoline and blood on hot blacktop in summer in Arkansas.
I saw the body of one of the drivers, still pinned in the twisted remains of his vehicle. He was bloody and grotesquely mangled from the crash.
I knew him and knew he was beyond help.
I was about to start making pictures when I heard a chilling wailing behind me. I've heard that sound before. I knew what it was before I turned around. When you've heard a sound like that, you never forget it.
I turned and saw a woman I knew running toward the scene, that animal howl of heartbreak and loss pouring from her throat.
Someone had told her of the crash, said her ex-husband was in it. He was -- it was his body I'd seen in the smashed vehicle.
No woman should have to see the father of her children in that condition. Was I going to be a dispassionate observer, let her discover the body of her ex-husband in the nearby wreckage, let reality play out?
Maybe I could make a prize-winning picture of her as she found him, face corroded by tragedy at the instant of discovery.
I grabbed her, hugged her, spun her away from the wreckage, told her that her ex was indeed dead and that she did not want to see him in that condition, did not want that to be the last image of him seared into her brain she would ever see.
I held her, comforted her as best I could, hot breath and grief-struck wails inches away from my ear, her salt tears soaking my shirt, said whatever I could to ease her agony, until some of her people came and took her away.
Then I picked up the camera I had dropped on the ground to hold her, and went to making pictures, doing my job.
Do I regret what I did, stepping out of the role of objective, hard-boiled reporter and into one of a caring human being?
Not for one nanosecond.
I have to wonder if that editor had walked out of his office building and been jumped by a mugger, would he have wanted any bystanders to stay out of it? Would he have been gasping to would-be rescuers, "Retain your objectivity -- don't help me," as some thug did a bareknuckle paradiddle on his face?
Or would he have thrown objectivity to the winds and hollered for help?
A second scenario: Had that editor walked out of his office building and seen it was his wife being mugged or worse, would he have stood dispassionately by? Would he have remained the objective journalist, diligently noting the date, time, and place of the event, listening attentively to the thudding tattoo of a stranger's fists on his wife, carefully watching the blood spray from her busted nose or split lip?
After all, such details can transform a routine crime story into a heart-tugging feature.
Would he remain above the fray? For his sake and his wife's, and the society at large he claims to serve, I hope not.
There’s a name for folks like that, but I can’t use it in this column.
After all, this is a community newspaper…