Superman the reporter
Copyright Times News 2009
Stereotypes are frustrating, yet every profession has them.
Teachers today wonder why respect for them has diminished compared to the way it was a generation or two ago. As they gained new-found rights, salary parity and benefits, they lost some of their mystique. Now the public and their students stereotype them as being more concerned about money, benefits and retirement than the education of their students.
Police and firefighters complain that people are less respectful of their authority than they were several decades ago. As they are required to do more things by the book, there is much less discretion in the way they handle incidents. They are, therefore, stereotyped as unfeeling and uncaring.
Doctors are portrayed as money-grubbers, where once they were held in the highest of esteem. Lawyers are viewed with disdain, and stereotypical jokes about attorneys being compared with barracudas, sharks and other predators are part of every late-night comedian's portfolio.
Mention the word "politician," and you're likely to see rolling eyes along with the obligatory yuks.
I wish I could claim an exception for journalists, but, regrettably, stereotypes brand this profession as well.
While some historians claim that former Vice President Spiro Agnew ushered in the era of press criticism when he described members of the news media in 1969 as "nattering nabobs of negativism," the love-hate relationship with the press has been going on for centuries.
In fact, the role of journalism and journalists has gone through many metamorphoses over the decades. Opinions run the gamut.
Rudyard Kipling once described a good reporter as the "noblest work of God."
French poet Baudelaire wrote: "I am unable to understand how a man of honor could take a newspaper in his hands without a shudder of disgust."
Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers with government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
Upon learning that his nephew was considering a career in journalism, British author Sir Walter Scott rebuked him, saying: "Your connection with any newspaper would be a disgrace and a degradation. I would rather sell gin to the poor and poison them that way."
Hildy Johnson, the cynical reporter in the classic film "Front Page" helped lock in journalistic stereotypes. In a swagger, Johnson defined a journalist as a "cross between a bootlegger and a whore."
Many people have asked me about the accuracy of life at The Daily Planet in the early TV episodes of "Superman." Are they kidding? This was the epitome of exaggeration.
Make no mistake about it. I often fantasized what it would be like to have Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter, working for me. Wouldn't any editor yearn for a Superperson at deadline, someone who could fly off to Harrisburg to get a quick quote from a sometimes cantankerous Ed Rendell? Could you imagine Rendell telling Superman "no comment?" Come to think about it, can you imagine Rendell telling ANYONE "no comment"?
Would Superman use his super hearing to listen in on executive sessions? What's that you say? Superman is too ethical to violate a trust and would do his utmost to uphold the ideals of truth, justice and the American way.
Come on! Truth? Clark Kent is a pathological liar. He flat out lies about who he is. Can this guy be trusted with accuracy and truth in a news story? Not in any newsroom I've been in.
And that doesn't even begin to address the conflict-of-interest problem. Reporters must avoid and report all conflicts of interest in fact and appearance.
Clark Kent never does, and, boy, does he have a big conflict! He gets intimately involved with news stories. As Superman, he collars the crooks and gives exclusives to his girlfriend and sidekick Lois Lane, while Jimmy Olson snaps the photos of the year. Sometimes Kent even writes the stories himself.
"Where were you, Kent?" exasperated Editor Perry White barks, when the always disappearing Kent shows up after the fact. "Oh, I was tying up some loose ends," (wink, wink) says Kent while uncomfortably fumbling with his glasses and straightening his tie.
Tell me, would you hire Lois Lane as a reporter or feel comfortable with Perry White as the editor of your community newspaper? They still can't see the similarity between Clark Kent and Superman after all these years. Aren't reporters and editors supposed to have keen powers of observation?
I get depressed when I see the fearsome foursome Kent, Lane, Olson and White single-handedly put out The Daily Planet, a great metropolitan newspaper.
No wonder my boss kept asking me why I needed nearly 60 people in the editorial department to put out a daily newspaper when he saw The Daily Planet doing it with four.
Talk about stereotypes!
(Bruce Frassinelli of Schnecksville, a Summit Hill native, has been in the communications field for 49 years and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)