That the September 2 fire on the dive boat Conception is a tragedy – is not in doubt.
That the news media should be telling the story – is not in doubt.
What is in doubt is the value of the story broadcast on CBS This Morning and the CBS Evening News on September 4.
CBS correspondent Meg Oliver was in Stockton, CA to meet with Domenic Selga, who lost five family members in the Conception tragedy.
We’ll never know why Selga agreed to speak with Oliver.
But it’s very clear why Oliver wanted to speak with Selga.
I can imagine her pitching her story angle to her news director:
Oliver: This is the guy who lost five family members! FIVE! He’s agreed to talk to me! I’m gonna dig in and dig deep, and I bet I can make him cry!
News Director: OK! But – if he doesn’t cry, it doesn’t fly.
Now, everything is in place. The vulture is ready.
(The news segment opens with Oliver’s intro, and then comes her lead-in to the interview:)
Oliver: Yesterday we talked to Dominic Selga. His family was on board, and they took a trip on the boat every year.
(She’s obviously just asked him one of those typically insensitive news reporter questions like, “Five members of your family are dead, whaddaya think of that?”)
Selga: You don’t want to believe. You want to hold on to that one percent.
(Cut to Oliver as he’s speaking. Notice her pursed lips and phony-sincere frown. Does she practice that look in a mirror?)
(She does a head nod, all sympathy – as though she could in any way understand Selga’s unimaginable loss.)
Selga: But at this point – my heart knows.
(Oliver tells the cameraman to get a longer shot. She wants us to see that Selga is a strong, muscular guy – and she’s going to make him cry!)
Oliver voiceover: Dominic Selga says his mother, stepfather and three stepsisters…
(This image is followed by several shots of the burning boat, and then:)
Oliver: …were among the 34 presumed dead above the dive boat Conception. It burst into flames and sank off the Santa Barbara coast early Monday morning.
(Back to interview. In case Selga isn’t suffering enough, Oliver wants his mind on that boat, down in that crowded bunk room, focused on his family’s terror and how they suffered.)
(She continues with her phony-sincere frown in place.)
Oliver: People on nearby boats described it as… [dramatic pause] “pure horror” [dramatic hand gesture] to watch helplessly – watching those flames.
Selga: They were down there in those bunks, they’re really small bunks. To have no escape…
(Cut to Oliver as he’s speaking. She’s still maintaining her phony-sincere frown and pursed lips, but inside she’s happy. She threw out the hook and Selga went for it!)
(Cut back to Selga.)
Selga: …is was something that was just playing in my head. It’s a complete nightmare.
(Oliver, to herself: We’re getting there…just one more push and he’s over the edge!)
(Cut to Oliver’s voiceover of various shots and a 60-second story recap. She winds down with:)
Oliver: …For Selga, he just wants answers for his mother.
(Oozing fake sympathy, smiling slightly, Oliver goes in for the kill.)
(She asks the one question she knows will churn up Selga’s pain and make him cry:)
Oliver: If there was one thing you could say to your Mom, what would it be?
Selga: If there was one thing I could say to my Mom, I…
Selga: I love you…that’s it.
End of interview.
Oliver makes a mental note to include the interview in her submission for the next News & Documentary Emmy Awards. “For sure,” she thinks, “I’m good for an ‘Outstanding Continuing Coverage of a News Story’ and ‘Outstanding Achievement of Making a Man Cry.’”
News reporters are notorious for asking grieving people horribly insensitive questions like, “Your home burned down and your husband was killed – how does that make you feel?”
And not a day goes by without a newscast showing a crying, grief-stricken spouse or parent or sibling, overwhelmed by their loss.
So horrible questions and people crying on the news are nothing new.
But Oliver’s approach – her obvious intention
and the deliberate cruelty of her questions – just sickened me.
Memo to Meg Oliver and CBS: