REAL REPORTERS: BEHIND THE CAMERA JOURNALISTS – Garry Armstrong

It’s never been a one-man show.

I’ve logged over 40-years in TV and radio news,  including 31 years at one Boston TV Station.  I’m always flattered when people say they remember me and my work. The body of work is considerable. Usually 3 or 4 daily newscasts, 5 to 6 days a week,  48 or so weeks a year times 40.  That’s a lot of news, good, bad and ugly.

A reporter,  the face in front of the camera,  gets the credit for everything. The images of life, death and the furies of Mother Nature.  Wars and Peace. Happiness and sorrow. You see the reporter, center screen with a name graphic, proof that he or she saw everything in the visuals that tell the story.

It’s a false premise.  It’s impractical. The reporter couldn’t possibly be in all the places seen in the story that has you riveted to the screen.

We’re called “talent” in business lexicon.  That should be a dead giveaway. We’re the human, face connection, to all those images on your screen.

The real reporters are the people behind the cameras.  The men and women who frequently put their lives on the line to bring you the pictures, the video seared into your sense memory.

I’m proud of all the awards I’ve received over the years. I’d be a liar if I said the hardware didn’t mean anything to me. They are reminders of the stories covered across four decades – on the local, state, national and international stages.  The awards have my name clearly etched, front and center. But I can see all the faces of those responsible for bringing the stories to life.

In the 60’s,  I was a green rookie, assigned to the national and international news,  landscapes that ranged from Vietnam, civilian dissent against the war, Civil Rights marches and violent opposition,  assassinations of national leaders,  a historic walk on the moon and a music-culture changer called Woodstock. I was a 20-something, agape at all these events I was covering for Network News.  It truly was baptism under fire.  I survived because of veterans whose careers began with the birth of radio and television news,  The great depression and World War Two.

The 20 something was handed the keys to the news kingdom.  Right place, right time. I may have often been driving the big car but those veterans always rode shotgun,  guiding me through some very difficult mazes of network news closed-door battles with the Pentagon,  the DOD and the White House.  I had a grizzled news manager who always counseled me, “Just tell the truth…make sure you’ve corroborated 2 or 3 times at least.

Don’t let the Pols or Generals faze you…make sure the stories are short, punchy…dump the adjectives”.

All that was behind me when I landed in Boston in 1970. If I thought I knew it all, I was dead wrong.  Boston was just edging its way into a golden era of TV Journalism.  The technology was rapidly changing and changing the way things were done.  TV news was still viewed with skepticism and contempt by many old-school journalists who believed the word was stronger than the picture.

Boston is a highly regarded news market. It can be tricky for a newcomer not versed in the proper pronunciation of towns and cities or the political landmines in seemingly benevolent Norman Rockwell like settings.

I was thrust into local celebrity by being a general assignment reporter covering blue-plate special stories of murders, fires, prison riots,  sexual predators, bad weather, and quirky politics.

I quickly learned to lean on the experience of the people shooting the stories.  They knew the players, the back stories,  the dos and the don’ts.

A news director (one of nearly 3 dozen I survived) told me to keep the camera crews under my thumb.  He said they were just ‘picture takers’, ‘lumpers’ and ‘complainers’.  That news director was history before I figured out how wrong he was.

Those picture takers really were reporters who saw everything around them. They knew when someone was just using his “face time” to dance around the truth and delay legal consequences. They warned me about the “frauds” and “fakers,” political and community leaders who could clean your pockets while shaking your hand.

I am especially thankful for the photojournalists who covered “the mean streets.”   They’re the ones I always saw at 3 o’clock in the morning at a devastating fire,  a triple homicide or drive-by shooting.  They always knew more than the eye-witnesses or law enforcement people just catching the case. I apologize to those whose names are omitted.  It’s impossible to do justice to all of you who were there for me and other reporters over all those years.

Boston is a unique TV news market because the competition is benevolent.  Everyone wants to be FIRST with the story, especially with the advent of electronic newsgathering.  Everything is “Now”.  It happens and,  in a few minutes,  you’re expected to be “live with breaking news”.  Truth and facts often become victims in the quest to be fast and first.

Reporters feel the pressure.  They often feel their jobs are on the line if they are not first.  The folks behind the cameras become a calming force.  They’ve observed the scene, the people, possible evidence.  Often, cameramen and women can figure out the story while fielding frantic and demanding calls from newsrooms.  Over the years,  I’ve leaned on camera and tech crews, not only from my station but also competitors.

I’ve been slipped pieces of paper with key information during live shots and looked like the best damn reporter in town.  In truth,  I was saved by a competing cameraman who saw me struggling and threw the lifeline.

I’ve been praised for memorable “standups” — those on-camera appearances where we look you in the eye and deliver riveting reports. The truth is those words often came from the people behind the camera.  Their words, repeated with sincere conviction by me.

The camera folks also correct information that we, seasoned reporters,  are sure is true.  I was often interrupted with,  “Garry, I don’t want to tell you what to say.  You always know what you’re doing…”   The bulb in my brain flashes — “Listen, know-it-all breath”.

So,  this is a thank you to Richie, Andy, Nat, Jack, Premack, Warren, Eddie,  Susan, Leslie, Noot,  Messrs. Richard Chase, “Fast Al”,  Stan The Man and all the other REAL — behind the camera reporters.

These were the journalists who enabled me to have such a long and satisfying career. Thank you!

ROSEANNE (FINALLY, AT LONG LAST) GETS HER JUST DESSERTS – Ellin Curley

Everyone knows that Roseanne Barr’s new TV sitcom has been canceled because of racist/conspiracy theory tweets she made.

I am thrilled! It may be mean-spirited of me to wish bad things on people that I consider vile, misogynistic, racist and anti-fact. But this is particularly well deserved.

Roseanne Barr, the actress, is a Trump supporter and advocate of the worst conspiracy theories and racism that are promulgated by the right-wing media. One of her goals for her show was to reveal a more nuanced, more favorable and relatable image for the middle-class Trump supporter. Instead, she proved the worst that we liberals believe about the typical Trump/right-wing supporters.

I am very happy that Hollywood gave up a popular, lucrative show for moral/political reasons. Their values and the values that most Americans share turned out to be more important than profit. At least in this one, egregious case. Money did not talk. Profit was not the God to be worshipped. The ABC network put morality and decency above their bottom line.

Roseanne’s behavior obviously embarrassed ABC. She put them in the spotlight and subjected them to an avalanche of negative press and pressure from viewers and sponsors. But they could have resisted to save their number one show on TV. This shows ‘character’ if you can attribute human characteristics to a corporation. It also shows that decent people have clout when it comes to extreme racism and fact bashing. Maybe not every time, but I feel hopeful.

I watched Roseanne’s first episode and actually liked it. But I refused to watch it as my own personal, political statement. I didn’t want Trumpettes to get a reputation whitewash. I wouldn’t support that. Now I don’t have to cringe when I hear how Trump supporters are being portrayed as nice and decent, but struggling people.

You blew it, Roseanne! The truth is out! You are as bad as we liberals think you are!

WHAT WORLD IS THIS? – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was first married we lived in an apartment on the second floor of a building that was one of two identical brick buildings. We lived in apartment 2Q, at the far end of the hallway … a corner apartment which had better ventilation than apartments in the middle.

I didn’t drive yet.

One day, having taken the bus home from shopping, I went in through the front and proceeded all the way down the hall to our apartment. As I started to put my key in the door, I realized that there was a nameplate on the door. It said “2Q, Kincaid.”

Not my name. Right apartment, but not mine. Hmm.

I took a deep breath, walked back to the elevator then went back to the apartment. It still said “Kincaid.”

I immediately realized what had happened. I had slipped through into a parallel universe, another dimension. I didn’t exist. I’d been replaced by someone named Kincaid. It took me a while,  standing there and staring at the door before it occurred to me that I was in the wrong building. It was a simple enough mistake: the two building were identical and I just hadn’t been paying attention.

What’s interesting is not that I went into the wrong building but that I immediately assumed I’d slipped into my own personal Twilight Zone. That building today is student housing now, but it was a private rental building back then.

Would most people, finding themselves in such a situation jump to the conclusion that they’d slipped into a parallel universe? Or would think they had maybe walked into the wrong building?

What would YOU think?

I sometimes wonder if a lot of my ability to get through a variety of bizarre and scary situations was because I didn’t relate to life as real but rather as if life — MY life — was a long book in which I was the main character. It was the narrator’s fault.

From when I was perhaps 4 or 5 years old until a few years ago, I lived life in the third person. I had a narrator. She sat on my shoulder and told my story. She added “he said” and “she said” and provided full descriptions of people, places, and events as they were happening. She flushed out experiences by providing context and commentary. She’d always been there, or at least as far as I could remember so it seemed normal to me, though distracting.

This was nothing like “hearing voices.” The narrator was not independent. She WAS me. She didn’t talk to me but about me. She wrote me. She was a mini-me, perched on my shoulder, always watching, then instantly translating everything into a third person narrative. I was detached but watchful. I saw everything and remembered everything, especially what everyone said and exactly how they said it. I was almost never fully engaged, but I was an excellent witness.

Does — or did — everyone have a narrator at least sometimes, or it was only me? I’ve always wondered if it was something to do with being a writer.

A few years ago, I realized my narrator was gone. Did she slip away a little at a time or suddenly depart without so much as a note of farewell? I wonder why she left. For that matter, I wonder why she was there in the first place. These days, she is gone as inexplicably as she arrived.

By the time I sat down and wrote a novel, she had been gone a while, though that was when I noticed her absence. Without a narrator to tell my life story, I find I am more surprised by experiences and have lost the ability to detach.

I’m real. Not the main character in an endless saga, merely another confused soul on the road from somewhere to some other place.

SPEEDY ALKA SELTZER – Marilyn Armstrong

RAPID. JUST ONE LETTER CHANGE AND IT’S RABID. 


When I think of speedy, I do not think of me. Or Garry. Or anyone I know these days. As the years have advanced, we have slowed. Whereas we used to walk fast and even sometimes (gasp) run, now we stroll. Or if you are me, stagger and weave.

But Alka Seltzer was speedy. Drink it and ignore those laughing bubbles and voilà, your stomach troubles were gone for good and all.

In my world, speedy is mostly Duke, the dog who leaps fences. He’s gaining weight, so I’m wondering how big he’ll need to be to make him stop jumping. He’s something to ponder, isn’t he?

Remember: RAPID is one short letter away from RABID. Get those rabies shots on time! Especially if your dog likes to hang out in the woods with the wild things.

THE RUSSIANS IN LIBERTY – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry and I have been watching “Reilly – Ace of Spies” starring Sam Neill. It’s a really good, long mini-series. Very detailed, complex, and absorbing. Since it’s more or less historical, I know how it’s going to end … which is one of the few things I don’t like about watching history. You know it’s going to end badly. You have to decide if you want to watch that final episode or maybe take a shower.

On this evening’s episode, Sidney Reilly quit the British Secret Service and committed himself to ending the Bolshevik reign in Russia at any cost. Which was when I realized I’d met a whole bunch of these people a long time ago in a world I’d nearly forgotten.

This is a strange story, so bear with me.

Russian Communism was not one or two easily understood “things.” It was an idea that became a revolution that fractured into multiple parts. Americans have typically seen it all as one thing: Communism. Khrushchev. Stalin. Soviet Union. For most Americans, that’s how we’ve been taught to think about it.

It was a lot more complicated than that.

A lot of people fought the Czar to end their reign and bring Communism to Russians. Many of those fighters were very unhappy (and many of them also wound up dead) because the Communist government they got was nothing like what they fought for. They fought for justice and equality, but what they got was tyranny and fascism. The ironic part of the story is that the fight to get rid the world of the German fascists basically cost them the country.

Getting rid of the Germans was pretty much the one thing on which everyone in Russia agreed. Get rid of the Germans. We’ll sort out the rest later.

It turned out Lenin wasn’t such a nice guy and by the end of the war, he was in power … and then, he was dead and chaos reigned. The British didn’t provide the anti-Bolsheviks the weapons or troops they had promised. The planned coup to take over the Russian government failed as did the attempted assassination of Lenin. By the time the Germans surrendered, Lenin and his wing-man, Stalin, owned Russia.

Sidney Reilly, the star of the series we’re watching, left the British Secret Service and dedicated the remaining years of his life to trying to destroy the Russian Bolshevik government. Many of his people — including Sidney — moved to New York where the FBI  stuck to them like super glue. The FBI was not then or now a group who understood the complexities of Russian history.

Eventually, many of these Russians moved to small towns in upstate New York. Monroe. Liberty. Woodstock. Monticello. Roxbury. Places that once were home to huge Jewish resorts like Grossinger’s and where so many stand-up comics got their start. Today these towns are doing pretty well, but there were dark days during which they were nearly ghost towns.

Except for the Russians.

Liberty, New York – the old days

I was 17 in the summer of 1964. My goal in life was to leave home and never come back. My mother still thought she might somehow lure me into staying a while longer … like until I was 18. Or got married. Or had a job. Thus when summer rolled around, she decided we needed a family vacation in the Catskills. Liberty, in Sullivan County, was our destination.

To say that this was not what I wanted doesn’t come close to it. I hated my father and disliked my sister. My brother had married and left home, so my only ally was gone. Family vacation? Seriously? I could look forward to a couple of weeks of being harangued by my father and probably threatened with near death beatings.

I never entirely understood my mother’s reasoning. Why would I want to go to the mountains with the family?

Regardless, that’s what we did. I don’t remember the name of the “resort.” It was old and rundown. The reason mom picked it was because they had a concert pianist. I was a music major with piano as my instrument. Mom apparently thought the music might grab my interest. In response, I brought enough dope with me to stay high the full two weeks.

But the mural was in full, blazing color

That first evening, we went to dinner. Big dining room  intended for a much larger crowd. Two walls were painted. Murals. On the wall facing me (I’m not making this up) was the head of Trotsky. From chin to forehead he was maybe 12 feet high? No body, just a head. I was really stoned and that huge head just hung there on the wall.

But wait. There was more.

On the right wall was something that looked like a chariot but was probably a troika which is usually pulled by three horses. In this case, it was being pulled by three workers. You knew they were workers because the hammer and sickle was prominently displayed across their laboring bodies. In the chariot — or whatever it was — there was a Corporate Rich Guy (dollar signs painted all over him) beating the workers. With a giant whip.

Holy shit.

That was some dinner. I don’t know what they served, but I ate it all.

That night, I could hear my parents whispering. “Albert, you better get cash. We can’t sign anything. The FBI is probably here. Watching.” Come to think of it, the FBI probably was there. Did they also eat the gefilte fish?

It turned out everyone in the resort except me, my sister, and parents, were in their 70s or older. All of them had been in the White army trying to take down the Bolsheviks — or something like that. Here’s a good jumping off point for the history. It’s Wikipedia, so it shouldn’t be your primary source.

The road to Liberty

These were Sidney’s people. They carried around books of pictures of pictures of them young, in the army. Guns. Boots. Snow. Tanks. If I had been more astute, a bit more into Russian history — and less stoned — I could have asked so many questions. I’m sure they would have told me everything.

As it was, they tried to tell me everything, but I was 17. We all know that 17-year-old girls don’t listen to old people, even when they have books full of pictures of themselves when they were kids, fighting Bolsheviks and tanks. In Russia. In the snow.

Until we started watching this series, I had no idea who these folks were. I knew they were Russian because they said so. They had pictures and they giggled when they talked about it. I remember Greenwich Village. They remembered fighting with the army in Russia.

Ah, memories.

At 17, I didn’t know the difference between one Bolshevik and another and probably, at that stage in life, didn’t care.

Tonight, watching that show, it came together. Those people were the last of the crowd of anti-Bolsheviks who’d come up from New York city to live in those quaint towns in the Catskills — to get away from the FBI and HUAC.

Pity I didn’t get the story. What a story it would have been!

Dad paid cash. He never signed anything. I think he used a fake name, too. I stayed stoned and ate gefilte fish, which I usually hate. How could I say no to fish with Trotsky staring at me while the guy with the whip beat the workers?

SHAME ON #METOO – Marilyn Armstrong

The Daily Post: GENIE!

Of all the genies in all the world, why is my brain totally stuck on “I Dream of Jeannie?” I could be obsessing on “the Djinn of the Desert” or the many Djinn of the worlds of poetry and mythology. Instead, I’m stuck on a 1960 TV series which I rarely watched. The problem was, I found it insulting.

I was a pre-menstrual girl child. No breasts. I just intensely hated the concept, it made me want to spit.

My father once commented that he didn’t really like children because he found them dull. I pointed out that he never found me dull (when he wasn’t being crazy, he was interesting) and he said “Yes, but you weren’t a child. You were a person.” That is probably the only compliment he ever gave me and I think I was 50 at the time.

I felt belittled by it the show. Embarrassed. Humiliated. The idea of wanting a beautiful personal female slave — never mind that the show often didn’t go in that direction regardless. As a note, I think Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman were offended by it too. Larry’s mom was a strong woman in her own right, so they intentionally took it off the rails.

Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden

I was a child, but I already knew it was a bad idea whose time would never come. Besides — I wasn’t blond.

My mother didn’t act like that. She was so very far from that place you could not even mention the concept without a gigantic blast of angry energy. I did not have a penis of my own and thus the concept of having a “beautiful slave girl” wasn’t rattling around my genitalia as it does for so many male persons of the penile persuasion.

I’m probably too much #metoo to be the right genie gal writer. I was #metoo before #metoo was #metoo. I’m betting so were millions and millions of women throughout the world.

We didn’t have a hashtag because “hash” was ground up potatoes and corned beef so you didn’t tag it on anything except your scrambled eggs, but we were pissed off with men long, long decades (possibly centuries) before the “official” movement drifted into view. And we fought back within the limits of physical abilities and the realism of needing to have a professional job in a world dominated by men, many of whom didn’t like women.

So you may have dreamed of Jeannie, but I didn’t.

Still, that little nose wiggle Elizabeth Montgomery did — I could have lived with that. Anything to not have to ever clean — or repair — the house.

THE YEAR THE DOOR OPENED – Marilyn Armstrong

I have often written that 1969 was my favorite year … and explained why.

As a start, it was epic from a news viewpoint.

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I watched it. I had a baby that year and it might not have made the networks, but it was big news at my house.

English: Neil Armstrong descending the ladder ...

So, as a new mother, I got to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. A real live guy walking — leaping — on the moon! We viewed it on CBS. It was obvious Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there with Neil and the rest of Apollo 11. He could barely control his excitement. He was nearly in tears. Me too.

The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest for that historic news event. Neil Armstrong died a couple of years ago, an honorable man and a true American hero.

How I envied him his trip to the moon. I always tell Garry that if the Mother Ship comes and offers me a trip to the stars, I’m outta here. Maybe there would be room for him, too and we could travel together to the stars. Our final vacation. I hope the seats have better leg room than what we usually get.

Woodstock was a 1969 event too. Rumors were flying about this rock concert which would totally blow up the music world. I had friends who had tickets and were up, up and away. I was busy with a baby and wished them well.

There were hippies giving out flowers in Haight-Ashbury, but I was happier that year than I’d ever been before. I didn’t need to be in San Francisco. I was entirely okay with being right where I was.

I was young, healthy. I was sure we would change the world. End wars. Make the world better — for everyone. I was young enough to believe that our beliefs were enough make the changes and those changes would last forever. All the changes would be permanent.

It never crossed my mind that 50 years later, we’d be fighting the same battles again. I probably wouldn’t have been nearly as happy had a realized that nothing is permanent. No legislation is forever.

I figured we just needed to love each and it would fix everything. I still think if we had all learned to love each other, it would have fixed everything. For some strange reason, I thought the people I knew and cared for were all the people.

I never realized there were so many other people who hated everyone. People who loved no one, not even themselves. They would never be happy. Or allow anyone else to be happy either. 

I had a baby boy and I sang “Everything’s Fine Right Now.” The song made a great wonderful lullaby and also, it made my baby boy laugh. 

It was the year of the Miracle Mets. I watched as they took New York all the way to the top. New York went crazy for the Mets. A World Series win. 1969. What a year!

I wore patchwork bell-bottom jeans and rose-tinted spectacles. I had long fringes on my sleeves and a baby on my hip.

Music was wonderful. How young we were! We could do anything. The world belonged to us. I just knew it.

Decades passed; youth was a long time ago. The drugs we take control our blood pressure, not our state of consciousness. Today’s drugs aren’t much fun, but along with replacement heart valves and implanted breasts to replace the pair that tried to kill me, they keep me alive.

1969 was my year. But in its own weird way, all the years have come around again and today’s young people are fighting the same old battles — again. Fighting to get the assault weapons out of the hands of people who kill kids in schools and trying to make the world right. I want them to do a better job than we did.

Often, these days, I wonder what we accomplished. I’m sure we accomplished something. We probably brought the close of the Vietnam war, but so late and so many were dead by them. Maybe this group of kids who seem so determined and seem to get that voting is going to be how they will make the system work — maybe THEY will  make things change and somehow keep the change alive.


Nothing lasts forever. Freedom is not free.

Regardless of how hard we work and how much we change the world, like a rubber band,  “the world” will go back to where it was. The generation that follows change will forget how they got their freedom, so the next one will have to fight again. Freedom is the thing we fight for. Not once, but over and over and over again.

Freedom doesn’t come for free.