Manhattan Project #22 Fred interrogates Jed

(knowing of Berman’s Midwest meltdown, news director Fred DeMarco examines Berman’s motives before turning him loose on the diary left by a homicidal veteran of the Iraq War)

“Jed, you and I have been in this business long enough to know that we do stories and move on, and even though you’ve got this extra angle of a soldier’s diary, I’m not sure I should turn you loose on this. Something tells me you have an ulterior motive here, maybe something personal that makes you want to share this guy’s private thoughts with the world. Give me a good journalistic argument for revisiting this old news.”

I had always been honest with Fred, even when I knew he wouldn’t like what I had to say. So I laid it all out for him—how doing the story would mean a lot to the guy’s parents, how it would give the community a chance to understand how this soldier could go so wrong, all of that stuff. I confess I did not tell him my personal motives for tackling the story. We’d never talked about those things, as I said before. I’d never gotten into that with anyone in any newsroom I ever worked in. You already know why. When I finished, Fred stood up, slipped his hands through his belt like the monk he used to be, and walked around the office for a while. Finally, he stopped and turned toward me.

“Okay, Jed, I guess you can at least start on this story. Let’s get the journal and take a look at it before we make a final decision here. If it’s as good as you think it is, it might be a sensitive piece about the effects of war and all that. We need to be careful that we don’t send some kind of anti-war message with it. Management would not be happy about that and viewers might get the wrong idea about where our heads are on military stuff. This is not a good time to look unpatriotic. But we have to be sure it’s worth doing and that it’s truly something special. We also don’t want to make people think every time someone in their family does something awful we’ll automatically do a story from their point of view to try to change the public’s opinion of them, even if they’re dead.”

“I know I don’t need to say this to you, but I’m going to say it anyway. We are the news, not a social service agency or a counseling service. We can’t provide this kind of access to everybody trying to cope with some awful thing that happened in their lives. You know what I mean?”

“Yes, Fred, I know what you mean,” I said in a voice that let him know I didn’t think he needed to say it, either.

And then he asked me one last question.
“Jed, is there any connection in your mind between your recent meltdown on the air and doing a story like this?”

“What do you mean, Fred?”

“I mean, was there more to what happened out there than you’ve told me? Did you have some kind of agenda you were working from that led you to pull a stunt like that? I don’t know what your personal, political views are and I don’t want to know. All I want to know is that you will take on this story as you have all the others in your career—being fair and honest and objective.”

“Fred, I’m a little offended that you would even have those suspicions. I’m a professional and a team player, and you know that.”

“Yeh, I guess I do, although outing the company’s strategy for boosting ratings in wartime doesn’t strike me as a particularly collegial thing to do.”

I sat there for a moment and then answered in the steadiest tone I could manage.
“Fred, I have no hidden agenda here. I’ve already told you I’m still not sure what happened that day out there. But I promise you I brought this idea in here only because I think it might be of interest to viewers, and because it’s the kind of story that always jazzes me, one based on information that no one else has, information that I think people might want to know.”

He had cut pretty close to the part of me I kept out of sight in the newsroom. As I sat there listening to him, it seemed to me that, in his former life, he was probably a pretty good monk, an asset to the church, an intelligent man who could think clearly and had some pretty good insight into human nature. But I was also glad that he had abandoned his vows and stepped into the public arena. As I’ve already said, I really respect the guy and am glad I’ve had the chance to work with him. After I made my pledge of sincerity, he nodded.

“Okay, Jed, go after this thing. And play it straight. Not that you owe me anything for what happened in the Midwest, but doing this story might serve as a sort of penance for what you did to all of us when you had your blow-out.”

“Thanks, Fred, and maybe I’ll say a few rosaries and throw in a couple of Our Fathers while I’m at it.”

He got a stern look on his face and pointed his finger at me.

“Watch it wise guy. I may have fled the cloth, but that’s still my church, when I go. I’ll brook no sacrilege in this office.” The frown lapsed into one of his infrequent smiles. “Keep me posted on this, Jed. I applaud your enterprise no matter how this ends up. You may be one high maintenance dude, but I’m glad to have you here in the woods working with us. Now get out of here.” He waved me out the door.

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