The Anchorman of Reality: News Media Perversion and Woody Price

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by Sam Lushtak

Now that about a month has passed since the events that unfolded surrounding our previous headmaster, and the dust has more or less settled in our day-to-day lives thanks largely to the godsend that is Mr. Damon Kerby, I believe that we are now capable of having an objective, rational discussion about the crisis and the reaction of our community, both locally at Branson and more generally throughout the Bay Area. We are ready to draw from the events and learn from them.

The most disappointing and infuriating part of the Woody Price scandal for me was not the event itself, the ensuing chaos and drama, or the snide comments from Redwood students.

No, the part that angered me the most was what I saw the day after the story broke, on a Tuesday during C block right before lunch, gazing out of the window of New House.

The news trucks.

Two different Dodge Sprinters pulled into the entrance of Branson within minutes of each other, their liveries and roof-mounted satellite dishes bearing “CBS Local News” and “NBC Investigative Unit,” respectively. I could imagine the reporting hyenas inside, licking their lips as they prepared to pick apart the remains of the Woody Price scandal’s already-cannibalized carcass. Thankfully, a number of livid Branson teachers quickly approached the trucks now parked in Branson’s upper parking lot, and their choice words chased the reporters off of the school’s property before their cameramen had a chance to further beat the dead horse of our former headmaster’s predicament.

Despite this single, small victory, the local news’ response to and handling of the crisis was frankly disgusting, and revealed a lot about the state of American media and culture today.

The media’s obsessive coverage of the Woody Price scandal was unnecessary and very hurtful for the Branson community. Many people at Branson – including faculty – only learned about what had happened by having a microphone jammed in their faces by a television reporter. The reporters covering the case were obsessed with the story and did not stop to consider their interviewees’ feelings. This is not the way that people should learn about something this tragic that has such a significant influence on their school community and their lives. Then, the continuation of media’s manic obsession with the scandal in the following days, as well as the press’s mean-spirited descriptions of Branson as an “enclave within an enclave within an enclave” – descriptions that, despite any truth that they may or may not hold, are completely unrelated to the alleged sex and drug habits of Mr. Thomas Woodrow Price – served only to add insult to injury to a community that was going through such a shocking event. Local news stations showed themselves to be little more than vultures, feeding off of any misery or despair that they find and deem attention-worthy, involuntarily  forcing vulnerable people into a sick form of “tragedy porn,” kicking a reeling community when it was already down. All in the name of headlines, attention, and revenue for their respective news stations.

But of course, this kind of activity by news stations only exists because our society and culture has a demand for it. The same kinds of people who rubberneck on freeways and hold up traffic when they see accidents on the opposite side of the road; the same kinds of people who watch trashy reality shows; the same kinds of people who love to see leaders of prestigious institutions be disgraced – these are the ones who tuned in to coverage of the Woody Price scandal and then posted posted witty, hurtful, or bafflingly Obama-blaming comments on social media about our school. The news media, in turn, caters to these people. And this is why I saw those TV trucks pull into the upper parking lot at 11:52 on that Tuesday during C block.

Now, some may argue that such a hawkish news media is integral to the idea of free press that our nation so cherishes. And indeed, local news stations’ investigative journalism is an excellent, time-tested way of exposing public corruption, wasteful management, or a litany of other societal ills. But the media circus at Branson following Woody Price’s arrest served no purpose and uncovered no new or meaningful information, going well beyond investigation into dirty, unethical exploitation. Free press should not require a school to hire security guards to stop the media from trespassing on a school’s private property.

Nor should it require reporters to harass fourteen-year-old students who know nothing about their headmaster’s private life, and are just trying to make it to physics on time.