Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Learning Courage from my Father

At the risk of turning my theater blog into a journalism blog, I’m going to make yet another entry that is more about journalism than theater, though it doesn’t abandon the latter theme. Also, with Father’s Day right around the corner, it is, perhaps, timely.

One of the things that has been very comfortable about being a performing arts columnist is that I’m mostly writing stories that my sources want to have told. People get angry at reviews, they rarely get angry at previews (except when I get something important like a time or a date wrong).

Like most people, I prefer to have people pleased with me rather than angry with me. However, I also learned a long time ago that such desires cannot be a driving force in good, moral decision making. How did I learn this? Many ways, I suppose, but what sticks out to me is one of my family’s stories about a choice my father made.

My Father’s Example of Moral Courage

My dad was a career journalist, one who was inspired (like many in the field) to enter the newspaper business because he wanted to make his community a better place. He graduated from college and immediately took a job as a community editor for a suburban Detroit newspaper.

This was during the Vietnam War, though because he had just graduated from college and was looking to pursue a master’s degree, he had received a draft deferral and his draft number was such that it wasn’t likely to come up yet for several years.

One of the early stories he covered were grand jury proceedings of a city politician who had hired a hit man to kill his opponent. The politician was furious at the coverage and brought a libel lawsuit against my father, seeking damages of $1 million. Eventually, the politician’s lawyer pointed out to his client that when it comes to libel, truth is an absolute defense and he was going to lose his suit as my father’s coverage had been accurate and truthful.

So the politician took another tack. He was chair of the draft committee in the community and changed my father’s number so that it would come up immediately. My parents were married on a Saturday and on that Monday, he received his draft notice. The politician took great glee and boasted about what he had done to his buddies in a local bar.

NEA Fellowship Instructor: “Be Brave. Be Specific.”

One of the things I’ve observed in the recent coverage of BoarsHead and the board’s decision to oust Kristine Thatcher, is that most of the public commentary has come from people out of town. Locally, people have opinions, but few are making any sort of public statement (with some notable exceptions).

I understand why this is the case. People locally have much more to risk, especially if they wish to work in a field that has very little opportunity in the best of times. I’ve had my own moments of paranoia—for while I myself have very little at risk in covering this story, I recognize that I could be jeopardizing opportunities for both my husband and my son. That thought pains me a great deal as I am a wife and mother before I am a journalist.

However, I have my father’s example to put that in perspective. My dad, by choosing to do the right thing, put his very life in jeopardy. Because he accurately and faithfully covered a story that needed to be covered, my brother and I might never have been born. I am faced with no such choice. Compared with the choices that my father made, mine are easy.

No comments: