Daily Archives: August 18, 2008

Dear Dick

What follows is a resignation letter written by former WAGA reporter Tom Corvin. He left Atlanta, worked in another market, then resigned. He wrote this letter afterward but never sent it. It’s rather long; LAF will publish the second half in a day or so.

He writes “this ‘letter of resignation’ is directed at no station/boss in particular, but rather at every one of them across the country.” His e-mail: thecorvins (at) hotmail.com

Mr. Richard Bossman
News Director
666 Main Street
Anywhere, USA

Dear Dick,

I’m resigning. It’s not without appreciation, however. The last two years of reporting local television news here have been wonderful. That’s why I kept a list, a documentation of thanks. Give or take a slow night, a sick day, or a few weeks of vacation, I’ve covered 437 stories in the last twenty-four months. That’s 437 opportunities to share with the community what they need to know, how they can be helped, what’s important in their lives. And that’s murder. 122 murders by my count. That’s one reporter, me, reporting 122 homicides. Include the follow-up reports, 21, and the stories on “non-life threatening” assaults, 20, that’s 161 stories on the dead and wounded, most of those gun related, 22 stabbings, six domestic. And I’m not including the two rotts shot by cops, nor the four felines poisoned by that mysterious “serial cat killer.” No, those fall among the other 69 crime stories about carjackings and liquor store capers. I’m only including the straight up slashers and trigger people, most of whom come from our “urban core,” code for ghetto, our arena for homicidal hyperbole. It’s not a safe place. And we made that clear more than 122 times, giving the safety of the suburbs another blurb, another body, to be thankful for.

My math may be a little fuzzy, but I’m totaling 212 tales of police tape, 212 community service warnings of what it’s like to be poor, disenfranchised, morally decomposed by crack, or, occasionally, fatally compromised by infidelity. All of which come with mortician memories. The dead baby in the dumpster. The mom screaming over the body of her 14-year-old boy, “On mother’s day! Why?” The grandchildren crying in the backlight of sirens, their “mee-maw” dead from a gangbanger’s bullet in the head. Good stuff, those “personal” moments of truth that always trump perspective. Like my “think piece” with the police chief, the story waylaid by the city’s 48th homicide of the year, the one where the aunt screamed, “Jimmy! It’s Jimmy? Oh, God, please, no! Not Jimmy!”

Don’t get me wrong. I won’t forget the big stuff. The families outside of the food plant, falling one by one as they find out their father, their husband, their brother, did not survive the mad man’s rampage. Or the eight dead prostitutes, the smell of their decomposed carcasses covered in cardboard and trash. I can still smell it now, still feel the flies of that hot summer hunt for a serial “ho” killer. But it’s the quiet moments I’ll cherish most. Like the time I held that baby boy so his mother could smoke, his dirty face turned to mine, smiling despite the shitty diapers of life his homicidal daddy left behind. I’ve got to admit, Dick, that time I cried.

But let’s forget about crime a minute. Let me thank you for the 164 “spot” and “generic” stories, too, some of what we pimp as “breaking news.” More dead people. 93 more dead people. 26 people dying in traffic accidents, fifteen by fire, fourteen by drowning, seven by war, six by tornado, five by plane, two by train, two by electrocution, two by falling, one by purse snatching, and one from a failed heart. I’m not including the Sri Lanka tsunami. I’m not including the earthquake in Iran. I’m not including celebrities like Pope John Paul, Ronald Reagan, or John Ritter (although I enjoyed the Don Knotts “Three’s Company” interview). I’m not including the charred bodies of the ten dead horses. And I’m not including the 40 stories on those who survived, the beaten babies who didn’t die. I’m only referring to 93 bodies, two years worth, mashed, gashed and mangled, their prime time eulogies left to a stranger’s pen.

Not that I always felt like a stranger. I wasn’t always turned away at the doors of the dead when I said, “I’m sorry for your loss. Do you have a picture?” Sometimes, for whatever cathartic reason, they wanted to talk about the sweetness of a two-year-old hit by a car, the innocence of an infant badly burned. It wasn’t uncomfortable, Dick. It wasn’t humiliating. It was a true pleasure tricking these people, coming to them in the guise of a god, a helpful deity in a tie, conning them into confessing their nightmares. That’s what you wanted, right? The tears of inconceivable loss, the funeral faces of pain, the dark vicarious food bag of death we spoon feed viewers just before the safety of bed? And that we did, my friend, 93 times by this reporter’s blood count. That’s 93 more ghosts to thank for that bump in the night of numbers called “ratings,” not to mention my memories again, those sweet scenes scarring my nicotined heart.

I always enjoyed the glares, the incredulous stares of the neighbors, of the cops, the whispers of “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” or “scavengers,” as the reporting pack circled a family of five charred bodies on a smoky deck, a little boy’s tarp covered body by his crumpled bike, the corpse of a wrong-way driver still dangling from his safety belt. I almost enjoyed those glares and stares as much, the vacant eyes of the lifeless asking, “why?” as we smoked and joked about somebody giving somebody a blow job at a party. “Don’t you people have any sense of humanity?” I heard that, too, our live trucks lined up on the lawn of a couple’s home, the bodies of two toddlers just pulled from a pool. “Can’t you just leave us alone?” But I never answered. I just looked for something to write to, some symbol of insignificance: a stained shoe in the road, an empty baby seat behind cracked glass, a beaten Bible in the debris of a killer twister. Poignance, that’s what I liked to call it. It sounds better than grave digging, don’t you think, Dick?

But what threw me, what fucked me up, was that opened door kindness I was talking about. Not the stunned and manipulated. But the genuinely transcendent parent who felt their child was in a better place. Or the wife who lost a loving husband and two grown sons when one of them fell asleep at the wheel. “This must be so hard for you,” she said, hugging me. She said that to me! Or the meningitis ravaged college boy who wants to be a writer. No feet. No hands. “Life looks pretty good,” he said. Or the young mother of that ten-year-old, the boy playing on the train tracks. Life didn’t look so good. But she wanted me to hold her, to let her cry, so I did. And I hated it. I hated all of it. Because it crossed the line. It turned the table. It made me taste their trauma, touch their souls. And that’s not what this is about, is it, Dick? It’s not about reality, right? It’s about distance, the surreal safety of space, the old switcheroo, the better-you-than-me saga, so we can all feel better about our shitty lives. So I apologize for cracking, for getting a little too close now and then. But the stories didn’t suffer. We always got the grieving. Even mine, sometimes.

To be continued….