Have Video, Will Air It

Hey, TV news producers and reporters: Absurd amateur video footage does not a news story make.

Hey, TV news producers and reporters: Absurd amateur video footage does not a news story make.

All three networks (plus cable) recently aired a “story” — we’ll call it, for now, TiggerGate — that has left us wondering: where’s the news judgment? It’s almost as if the only question television news producers ask nowadays before approving a “story” is, “Is there video we can run (ideally video that has appeared on YouTube, so we can say the word ‘YouTube’ in the story)?”

Now for some background on TiggerGate.

As you probably know by now, some guy is claiming that during a family visit to Disney World last week, a man dressed as Tigger (Winnie the Pooh’s tiger friend) punched his 14-year-old son in the face as they posed for photos. And — oh, happy day! — this guy captured the “assault” on home video (or, as CNN’s Betty Nguyen gleefully exclaimed while reporting this story on Sunday, “Ooh, it’s on tape!”).

Time was when footage like this might, best case, end up on America’s Funniest Home Videos with Bob Saget. We no longer live in that time. Today, the once-wholesome Bob Saget is raunching it up. And television news judgment has gone to hell.

To wit: Both CBS and NBC teased TiggerGate in the opening seconds of their morning news programs Monday — right up there with the latest news on Iraq and the recent extreme weather around the country. But while NBC’s coverage consisted of a quick summary, a snippet of the “assault” video, and some typically inane host-on-host banter (Matt Lauer: “… I think kids can be a little rough on some of those characters.” Meredith Vieira: “We don’t know what happened. You shouldn’t punch a kid in the face.”), CBS’ Early Show landed the juicy “get”: a three-minute interview with the dad who cried “assault” (one Jerry Monaco, identified on-screen by CBS as “Father of Son Allegedly Struck by Tigger Character”), his Tigger-mauled son (Jerry Jr. or “Allegedly Struck by Tigger Character”) and the family’s attorney (whom CBS should have identified as “Man Spearheading Efforts to Monetize Alleged Striking by Tigger Character”).

While Jerry Sr. explained to CBS’ Hannah Storm how Tigger “out of nowhere … sucker-punched” his son, CBS replayed the “assault” video (in a confusing few seconds, we see Tigger’s padded paw — intentionally? — make contact with Jerry Jr.’s cheek, after which the family photo shoot more or less continues) 13.5 times, sometimes including a helpful “spotlight effect” around Jerry Jr.’s head.

Some choice bits from Storm’s hard-hitting interview:

STORM: Was your son treated for injuries?

JERRY SR.: I did end up having to take [Jerry Jr.] to the hospital. I believe it was Saturday night. Everything’s been a blur since this happened. So — he woke up with neck pain, and I brought him immediately to the hospital. It’s just been — it’s been a nightmare.

STORM: Wow. Jerry Junior, how are you feeling now?

JERRY JR.: I’m a little sore and, you know, the pain — most of the pain’s gone because I have medicine.

STORM: And what was this experience like for you?

JERRY JR.: It’s hard to explain, it really is.

STORM: Mm-hmm … Did you provoke Tigger in any way?

JERRY JR.: No, not at all.

STORM: Let’s bring in your attorney, Mark Morsch, here. … What do you want from Disney?

MR. MORSCH: Well, the family wants an apology, certainly … They came, like so many families do, to Disney. It was their dream, they were looking forward to it, and they had no idea that they were going to be in a situation like this where Tigger was going to hit their son. Certainly an apology is something they want to have from Tigger.

And, as CBS’ Public Eye blog noted in its careful objection to the Early Show segment, “it’s safe to assume that the family is open to compensation” on top of a mea culpa from Tigger.

It’s important to note here that while CBS landed the “exclusive” on this one, there is no question that any of the networks would have jumped at the chance to interview the two Jerrys (save, perhaps, in this one instance, Disney-owned ABC, although Good Morning America’s Chris Cuomo did mention the incident soon after 8 a.m. Monday, narrating the video footage for viewers: “There’s the little claw that got [Tigger] in trouble.”)

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was an Orlando, Florida ABC affiliate, WFTV, that did the most thorough reporting of Tigger’s side of the story, noting that “Channel 9 has learned Tigger said he was the one who was attacked. A union representative for [Tigger] said he was pulled and was choking, adding he was just trying to escape from the teen …”

Why? Why is this happening? While TiggerGate wasn’t initially a YouTube-driven story (although the “Tigger Attacks” footage is certainly available on YouTube), maybe it is part of some sort of overall bar-lowering YouTube effect: a whole universe of absurd home video is now available online, any one of which can be — and often is — turned into a “news story” by some hard-up producer. And, as we noted above, the media loves to reference YouTube as much as it once loved to talk about MySpace or Friendster or, simply, once upon a time, the World Wide Web.

We understand that morning news show producers (to say nothing of the nightly news folks) feel they have to deliver their hard news with a dose of less weighty stuff (a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and all). But TiggerGate (really?) portends an ill wind blowing, indeed.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.