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  • Reverend James Squire


CNN and MSNBC are my TV stations for news. I usually don’t get a steady dose of the TV news until I was quarantined in a room due to Covid. A good many of the questions from up front and in person reporters made me uneasy, and I wasn’t sure why until now. One of the ethical questions before me is, “Who was benefitting from those questions?” I saw the banner that proclaimed that “CNN Was Made for This War.” Stations are competing for the best telling of the story of the Ukrainian people undergoing this horror. Having boots on the ground interviews that are shown to us back home seem to be the only criterion for the nature of the interview. I do know that the Ukrainian people want to get their story out for the world to know of these atrocities. I question the style and resulting substance of too many of the interviews that I have seen.

Has anyone in the interest of being first in the news raised the question, “Is this form of interviewing best for people who have already gone through hell and are now asked to retell it and relive it for the people with the mike in their hand? I am referring to the “intrusive questioning” style of many of the CNN interviewers. “How do you feel now that you lost everything? What was it like to bury your two children next to your husband? How do you feel about your mother murdered while riding her bike?”

How is the person helped by this kind of question WHEN IT COMES FROM THE INTERVIEWER?

I see a difference between this kind of question and the nature of questions in counseling. There is a golden rule in counseling. Always protect the person who has come to you for help and the best way to do that is to NEVER MAKE YOUR AGENDA THEIR AGENDA. Often to guarantee that this golden rule is upheld I will say to the person who has come for help, “You talk and I will listen for a while.”

The CNN interviewer could ask, “Is there anything that you would want to tell me that would help you?”; “Is there anything that you would want the world to know?”; or the Rogerian approach to client centered therapy by listening to the devasted person and repeat back to them what you are hearing for clarification so they could take the exchange in the direction that THEY CHOOSE. Those kinds of exchanges allow the viewer to enter into a form of a healing process where they would feel involved in helping the other. This is opposed to not wanting to see and hear any more interviews because it is too overwhelming because of the voyeuristic nature of watching another’s suffering.

People have become inured by the coverage meaning that we are being too accustomed to the difficulty and pain of the Ukrainians. That is the last thing that we should want.

I am suggesting a new form of interview whose end result should generate empathy from the viewer but more importantly a feeling that the people who are interviewed feel heard about what they deem important to share.

I have a cautionary tale that brings me to wanting a different style leading to different substance of what the person interviewed really wants to say. It would be what they think is important as opposed to the reporter who is interested in ratings under the disguise of caring for the person being interviewed.

I am aware of a man who had both legs blown off during the Vietnam War who was in charge of a battalion of soldiers who made sure that there were no bombs on a path that others would follow. As an officer he was the lead man. When they were at the end of a road, he felt that their job was completed for the day, but he heard a baby crying off in a field. He walked to the baby and the pressure bomb was underneath the infant. Later in life he was watching CNN’s coverage of the War in Iraq. He was overwhelmed and committed suicide. I wonder what he would need to hear in an interview that would have him feel that he was part of a healing process where he could feel empathy and not a form of voyeurism for the reporters who were trying to get the best coverage by asking questions that they thought would raise ratings.

Stephen King once said that the popularity of his horror books is based on the same dynamic of why people slow down on a highway at the scene of an accident. Everyone wants to see something scary and then move on. Does that in any way help those injured in the crash? No. Does it fuel a voyeuristic need? Yes.

It is now standard to hear on the news that, “The scenes we will be showing are disturbing. You may want to look away.” That is because it is the news stations decision, not the people injured in the accident. Would you and I want people gawking at us on the side of the road after an accident that we had? It is the same issue with the people in Ukraine. It is the Ukrainian people who have lost control over everything important in their lives. The least we could do is allow them to control their emotional lives by telling us what they want us to know. That would help them far more and would underscore that the questions are not for ratings.

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