It's a Very Gray World
May 2003

by Jim Parisi

I was asked by a journalism student doing her senior thesis this week what I thought of the restrictions of war coverage in Iraq. Being a news guy my whole life, I am known to have some typically strong feelings on such topics. The whole “getting the information is crucial and nothing should stand in our way” thing. Full access to every story includes a war, no barriers to what can be reported should ever exist. Basically, if we learn of it, we report it, and let the chips fall where they may.

But as I get older, and have children, I’m starting to realize that like everything else in life…the situation is not black and white. Sometimes idealism and reality are at odds with each other.

Where to begin? Police profiling? Politics? The “Liberal Media”? Nothing is as black and white as some supposed leaders of this country would ‘lead’ you to believe.

Police Profiling. Well, surely no one should be pulled over in a car because they may ‘look’ a certain way. Everyone agrees with that. Heck it’s un-American. So we should treat an 85-year-old lady crawling along in her Lincoln Continental the same way as the four huddled men in that van parked next to the Golden Gate bridge, right? I used to think that way. I don’t any more. Thinking that way will cause lots of people to be killed crossing that bridge some day. Let’s apologize profusely while we search the van, and then apologize some more if nothing is found to be suspicious. That sure beats apologizing to all the family members of those who died because we didn’t search the van.

Politics. Let’s put it this way: half the leaders of our country say everything Democrats do is wrong, the other half says everything Republicans do is wrong. What that means to me, is that both must be wrong half the time then, so I can’t believe a word any of them says. Anyone who blindly agrees with the party line is an idiot, who should be thrown out of office. But what do I know.

More ‘gray’ politics? I never get into heated arguments about what decision our President makes. Oh I might debate a point or two. But when the big decisions are made, there is one thing of which I am sure: we are not seeing or hearing what is really happening, so we’d be fools to assume we are armed with enough truth to have a strong opinion. Here’s what I mean. In my years of management meetings in news broadcasting, and years of interviewing sources from government and other powerful positions, I’ve learned something I’ll never forget. After each meeting, invariably this sentence is spoken by one of the principals involved: “what should we say we are doing this for?” In other words, the public rarely knows the reasons behind any decision, no matter how large or small. I’m sure for example that when Baskin Robbins decided on 39 flavors instead of 40, it wasn’t because they didn’t have 40 flavors available. It was probably because the bosses wife was 39, or some other silly reason. Seriously though, this is an example I give to those who have worked in my newsrooms over the years. When you are bad-mouthing management after I laid off two employees last week, you had no idea I was ordered to lay off 16, but I declined and as a result my job is in jeopardy. You don’t know the facts, ever. So give your opinion, but be conscious of the fact that you are often ‘guessing’ about what is happening.

How about the decision to go to war with Iraq? I assume President Bush didn’t go there because he knew Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. But I’d like to believe he is privy to information that, if I had it, I would have made the same decision. Naïve? Maybe. Or perhaps he knew a few countries were going to rise against the USA, and he was informed that if we took an uncharacteristically aggressive stance, they would back down, and relative world peace would prevail. Conversely, maybe he just wants to impress his Dad. Either way, we’ll never know, so why beat ourselves up over decisions that we have no way of knowing are good or bad. Question authority and their decisions I say, but don’t be so predictable as to do this along party lines.

Nothing is black or white now. Is it right to take away Saddam’s weapons? Maybe not. But I see it this way: if ten families are in a hotel lobby, and one of the family’s kids pulls a gun and starts waving it around, I say let’s tackle him and take it away, whether we have that right or not. See what having children does to you? What’s right or wrong isn’t what is ‘fair’ all the time now. What keeps us safe suddenly matters. Again, idealism versus reality.

So should the government keep track of what we buy on the Internet to determine if we are building weapons? That’s a tough one. I hate big brother, in any form. But boy, I sure hate seeing kids blow up schools too. Do I hate feeling unfair and judgmental because I consider changing my flight when I see a group of suspicious men with large bags getting on my plane? Or that in my mind I lay out the full scenario of how I’d react if and when they try to take over the plane? Yes. But I’ll do it again next time. Something about being safe at home with my kids makes me this way. Life has changed. Let’s be fair AND smart. And safe.

Oh, and on the “Liberal Media”? I’ve worked at 14 broadcast jobs in my career so far. Only twice have I been pushed to present one side over another. Both times I was ordered to favor the Republican candidates. Lost a nice job over it, too. Go figure.

© Jim Parisi

(Jim Parisi dabbles in television news management where he specializes in interactive news, is a former anchor/reporter, and is the editor of


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