Too often, when a newsmaker says “I don’t want my face on TV,” reporters quickly agree. They may ask their photogs to videotape the interviewee in the classic silhouette. But more often, it’s done on the fly. So they shoot the back of the subject’s head. Or their hands. Or the reporter nodding as the subject talks.
We think the subject ought to have a good reason to cloak their identity: Fear of reprisal is always a good reason. But there aren’t many others. We don’t know why Judith Rivera wanted her face concealed as she talked to reporters outside Grady Hospital Friday. And one can’t imagine why she agreed to allow them to use her name if she wanted her identity hidden. While speaking to the assembled mic-wielding folk, some photogs shot pictures of her hands and clothing. WGCL shot a wide shot of the back of her head. If the station was serious about concealing her face from public view, the framing was unfortunate — especially on a couple of occasions when she turned her head sideways.
TV stations get sued over this kind of stuff. Ms. Rivera had already announced her intention to take legal action against the contractors at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where a walkway collapsed Friday. If she’s a litigious sort, her case against WGCL would probably be undermined by her agreement to be identified by name. But there’s no question her friends and family would be able to identify her. Likewise, any stalkers or ex-husbands, were there any.
Maybe one of the reporters at the impromptu news conference pointed out the incongruity of her requested anonymity. But odds are, they were just happy to “get” a relative of a victim, and submitted to her condition. If WGCL (and the other Atlanta stations) agreed not to show her face, then they should have abided. And when the woman carelessly turned her head, revealing part of her profile, then the station had an obligation to keep that portion of the interview off the air, by airing video of the accident scene or something else.
Chances are, WGCL’s managers didn’t catch this until after it aired. That leaves it up to the crew in the field to be smart enough to protect their source, itself — and its employer — when it promises anonymity.