An offhand remark on C-SPAN this week about my favorite tie sparked some interest. It’s the one I only wear on C-SPAN, since 1989. Alert viewers found past photos and a column I wrote about it years ago, which I had totally forgotten. More important things going on these days, most certainly, but kinda fun:
Author: Craig Crawford of the Sentinel Staff
Date: Jul 24, 1994
Start Page: A.18
Section: A SECTION
I got my C-Span necktie out again Friday. What is it about being on television that makes people focus on such things? But sure enough, the fancy red-white-and-blue silk tie I got from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art once again upstaged me on the cable channel’s Friday morning Journalists Roundtable
“Loved that tie,” a White House press aide told me later, not mentioning my harsh on-air criticism of incompetent White House public relations for President Clinton’s health-care reform.
Even my parents and cousin, a well-educated assistant U.S. Attorney, obsessed on my neckwear. But that may have been their way of avoiding comment on my obvious weight gain.
Such is the nature of television. The wrong things get magnified.
Still, somehow in the blur of haircuts, makeup, clothing and all the other superficial distractions, there were the voices, the callers, the dutiful C-Span viewers who have a special way of getting to the point.
And most callers Friday wanted to talk about health reform; in particular, they wanted to debate Clinton’s call to make all employers share the cost of health insurance for all Americans.
“My employer doesn’t help pay for my car insurance,” said a man from Zion, Ill. “Where do we get off saying the government or employers should pay our health insurance? I just don’t understand why people don’t pay their own insurance.”
The well-heeled Washington lobby against so-called employer mandates could not have said it better.
Often ridiculed, but more articulate than some experts, those who call C-Span’s viewer participation programs spotlight issues that Washington tends to gloss over.
“There are so many of us out here who know so much more than you reporters do,” said a Santa Maria, Calif., woman, joining a series of callers who complained that the news media are not doing enough to investigate the web of intrigue surrounding Clinton’s Whitewater land deals in Arkansas.
“We’ve got the biggest crooks in the White House there ever was,” the Arkansas native said.
Citizen callers have little or no obligation to prove their charges. And sometimes it’s frustrating for journalists to sit quietly while someone gives us a tongue-lashing for not reporting things that aren’t even true.
But it’s good for us. We need to hear them, especially when they make us mad. It’s hard to be self-important when somebody calls you an idiot on national television.
And being on a televised call-in show forces the aloof to suddenly become personal.
One caller insisted that I provide details of my health insurance. Before I could assess the weirdness of it, I was telling America how much I pay for my insurance ($60 a month) and how much my employer contributes ($140 a month).
Many of my news media colleagues think this whole business is unseemly for journalists, that we disgrace ourselves with this spectacle of Americans in their bathrobes yelling at us on a Friday morning.
“Why don’t you just tell them off?” one reporter asked. I guess it’s because getting angry on television looks bad, even if you are justified.
Or maybe it’s because I fear the criticisms are on target, that the Washington news media do a lousy job, especially when choosing which stories Americans want to hear about.
In the safety and comfort of my office, with only the computer to bleep its irritation when I hit the wrong key, it’s easier to think I know what I am doing.
And one thing about it: The computer doesn’t care what my neckwear looks like.