A news team visits an unemployment-compensation office to talk with the jobless following a presidential speech. The persons interviewed on camera, perhaps a bit distracted by thoughts of empty larders and foreclosed mortgages, manage little more than "yeah . . . like . . . you know?"
The reporter, however, closes with, "As one man said, 'It isn't speeches we want; it's jobs.' ''
I wondered at the time why the fellow quoted declined to make his statement on camera. Did he fear retribution by roving gangs of Reagan supporters or was he merely shy? Then I began to notice that while most ordinary citizens interviewed on television are less than articulate, a number of TV news stories end with perceptive, concise statements attributed to persons never shown on camera but identified as a man in the crowd or a longtime resident.
Every natural disaster produces at least one individual, rising from the rubble and not actually shown on film, who supposedly says something on the order of "this is a God-sent opportunity for the folks in our town to put aside their differences and work together to rebuild a better South Boondock." On-camera neighbors are either speechless with grief or spout trivialities like "help me get this I-beam off Grandma."
Wars seem to produce pensive guerrillas who, always off-camera, offer observations similar to "we can have no winners in this unfortunate conflict. We are all brothers. We are all losers." Meanwhile, comrades shown behind the khaki-clad reporter fling grenades, thump their chests and mug for the camera.
An example of this phenomenon occurred when one network closed its report on the pope's May visit to Great Britain with a splendid sentiment--"A country at war needs a man of peace"--ostensibly from one of the throng lining the pontiff's motorcade route. The author of this well-crafted sentence was not filmed. The Brits who were filmed, although smartly waving flags and hankies, burbled "yes, then . . . well . . . nice."
Now I am not one to question anything I see on TV news. During the Korean War I accepted the daily tallies of downed MIGs. In the '50s I believed that nuclear tests are harmless to man and beast. Later, each and every Viet Cong body count sounded okay to me. But I must admit that recently, for a few troubling days, I actually harbored a suspicion that TV reporters inject editorial comment into their stories by writing nifty endings and passing these creations off as the statements of ordinary people.
Then I came to my senses. The television networks wouldn't tolerate such chicanery, would they? My longtime faith is not misplaced.
What I have discovered actually must be a vast sub-rosa organization devoted to producing intelligent, on-the-spot responses to major news events. They have to be highly trained individuals, sworn to secrecy. They are probably recruited by scouts who roam the country looking for youngsters who can come up with a reasonable answer when their high-school principal asks, "What are you doing in the hall when the class bell has rung?"
After undergoing long and arduous training, they begin their life's work. Donning appropriate costumes (John Deere caps and overalls, mud-splattered fatigues, etc.), they fly into prime news areas. Once on location they quickly size up the situation, compose a few choice sentences, and when the news personnel arrive, position themselves in the foreground. Of course they are careful to avoid being filmed since it wouldn't do for the same faces to keep showing up, in country after country.
I don't know who is behind this well-funded organization, but I think it may be the manufacturers of antacids and over-the-counter sleeping pills. These businesses have a vital interest in making sure each TV news feature is ended neatly and doesn't run into one of their commercial time slots.
I am sure the TV networks are being hoodwinked and the viewing public misled. I am anxious to discuss this vital news story with members of the media and would be glad to be interviewed on camera.
Well . . . sure . . . you know?