Nice to meet you, Sen. Shealy

Screenshot 2016-07-10 at 3.01.27 PMI don’t know Katrina Frye Shealy, and she doesn’t know me.

I think it’s time we got acquainted.

In the face of the violence and discord that currently plagues our country, the state senator from South Carolina has suggested that, more than likely, members of the media are our nation’s biggest problem. People in my line of work, in Sen. Shealy’s own words, sensationalize everything. We stir the pot. We fuel a blazing fire. Silencing us for a month, she believes, might make our world a better place.

On Facebook, her supporters have referred to news reporters as “the enemy.”

I have to wonder if Sen. Shealy actually knows anyone involved in the media. I’m not talking about knowing them on a working level. I wonder if she’s familiar with the true heart and motivation of anyone who works in my business.

Sen. Shealy, let me introduce myself.

My name is Jerry Carnes. I’ve been a news reporter for more than thirty years. I am a child of the south, raised by Southern Baptists who taught me to work hard, love God, and to respect others. My father grew up in poverty, but worked hard to become an Olympic track coach. My mother had to overcome the scars of abandonment inflicted by a rather cruel father. She is the single strongest woman I’ve ever known.

Most of all, my parents taught me about humility. It is why I lean heavily on the words of the Apostle Paul:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourself.

I have witnessed more than most people ever should. I saw a man die in the electric chair. I arrived too early to a crime scene to find an infant lying in the street, shot to death by her own father. These are images that stay with you for a lifetime.

I know grief. I lost my father to cancer in 2011. It is a loss that has left a giant crater in my heart. I lost a cousin to the war in Iraq. This year alone, my church youth group has lost two of its members to tragedy. These are tender young lives who once called me their Sunday school teacher. I went on mission trips with them. Time and time again, my heart breaks.

It has made me more sympathetic to the pain of others. Over the past thirty years, I’ve talked to scores of people who have suffered from senseless tragedy. I’ve served as both reporter and counselor. There have been many times when the talking has gone on long after the camera was turned off. I do all I can do to lighten their burden rather than add to it. For thirty years, I’ve carried home the weight of second hand grief. It is the strength of God that keeps that weight from crushing me.

I am a natural born storyteller. That’s why I got into the business. Reporting has given me opportunities to shed light on wrongdoing, to give a voice to the voiceless. My favorite moments, however, have come when allowed to share stories of human triumph. I will never forget the uplifting bond created between a young lady who survived a plane crash, and the elderly couple who ran to her aid. The couple lived near the Carroll County cornfield where the plane erupted into a ball of fire. I met them at the hospital, where they remained at the young girl’s bedside until she’d healed enough to return home. By then, they were practically family. Out of incredible tragedy, love and compassion appeared. Good came from bad.

My years in television news have taught me that, at times, the presence of a camera can add to hostility or pain. As a veteran, I’ve learned to recognize the need to shed light on a moment, and the need to go dark.

Violence, hatred, and prejudice of any kind breaks my heart. I mourn often. I’ve mourned more this year, it seems, than ever before. I weep when I see our country torn apart in disagreement over how to end the rash of hatred. When others hurt, I hurt. I also have faith that we will rise again, stronger than ever.

I have been married for 31 years. My wife is an artist who runs her own business from our home. We have three children. Our oldest is married. He works for a non-profit and volunteers as the social media director of his church. Our middle child is a nurse. She is also married. Her husband works as an audio engineer for a church in Charlotte. Our youngest is about to leave home for college, where she plans to prepare for a career as a special education teacher. I’m immensely proud of them all.

Sen. Shealy, I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes during my long career in this business, and I beg your forgiveness. Working as a news reporter carries with it incredible responsibility. I know there have been times when I’ve taken that responsibility too lightly. I’m human, and that’s my point here. When you refer to the “media,” you’re not talking about a giant ogre that needs to be slain. We are individuals. Each and every one of us has a heart that has been molded by individual experiences. Each of us has our own faults and stumbles. Each of us, as individuals, deal with our own failures.

Now that you know something about me, I hope you’ll see that I would never intentionally sensationalize anything, or purposely throw fuel on a fire. Compassion is a driving force behind my work, which is why I devote so many hours warning others about the risks of prostate cancer. It’s the disease that took my father. Oh, I am not remarkable, by the way. Not by any means. There are plenty of reporters who have seen more than me, endured much worse, and learned a lot more. There are journalists who are much smarter and far more compassionate. I can introduce you to some reporters who would really impress you with the many ways that they’ve bettered the world. If you got to know them, you wouldn’t want to silence them for a half-second, much less a month.

I can get better at what I do. No question about it. We can all do better. But I think it would be a huge mistake to silence us. Yes, we do sometimes throw light on issues that make us uncomfortable. Extinguishing that light, even for a month, would leave us all in the dark. With all respect, I pray that you would consider that.

It was nice to meet you.

 

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4 thoughts on “Nice to meet you, Sen. Shealy

  1. Nice to meet you Mr. Carnes

    Now that I know you Mr. Carnes, I think it only fair that you know a little more about me. I am not some heartless life long Legislator who doesn’t care about people. If you were to check around you just might find that I have quite a few friends in the media. The truth be known I am one of the most assessable Legislators in my State and am known for being straight forward and honest – never pulling any punches or hiding to get away from a question. You also might find out that I am a strong advocate for women, children, homeless and the needy in my state. I even have a 501C3 foundation in SC to fund programs for children in Foster care and group homes to give all children equal opportunities.

    I lost my Mother at the age of 15 to cancer and grew up quick, helping my father raise my 11 year old brother. I am a Faithful member of St. James Lutheran Church and serve on the Church Council. I head up the Evangelism Committee and both my husband and I sing in the church choir. We have 3 daughters and 5 grandsons. One of my grandsons suffers from a congenital heart defect and had open heart surgery at 6 months old. I could tell you many more stories of tragedy strife but that is not the point here. We are all regular people with regular lives and work, play and pray together. We have the same struggles as everyone else.

    My post never intended to suggest that we quench the First amendment. Never did I intend to say that we eliminate the media. What I said on my Personal Facebook Page was what change would be made if we shut down the media for 30 days. If we could see no sensationalism or fanning of fires what would happen? You cannot honestly say that between 24/7 news reports and social media this does not affect violence in America.

    What has happened though is I have not been allowed to voice my opinion without being victimized. This is all okay because my skin is thick and I grew up tough. I will move on but you too need to know who I am. I am not the person I have been portrayed by the media the last two days because of one sentence in a Facebook post.

    God Bless.

    Katrina F Shealy
    SC Senator

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sen. Shealy, Thank you so very very much for writing me. You can’t imagine how much I appreciate it. My message wasn’t not intended to insult you, but so you could get to know someone who works inside the business of news reporting. I think we can agree on some points. Yes, the images shown on television can be disturbing, but they’re true. The camera doesn’t blink, and it doesn’t lie. As journalist, we have a responsibility to tell the truth, no matter how disturbing it may be. I’m not sure how the recent events have been sensationalized, and I don’t agree with your view that sensationalism is a way of life for journalists. However, it’s great that we can have a respectful difference of opinion, and that I can use it to better myself as a journalist. I really appreciate you giving insight into your life experiences. It’s important. It tells everyone what shapes you. We are all different because of our experiences, and insight helps us to understand one another and open our minds to differing views. Just know that it is never my intention as a reporter to sensationalize or fan flames. We are there to tell a story, and sometimes that story is ugly. Here in Atlanta, the demonstrations were mostly peaceful. There were a few arrests, and that was a part of the story. The story was mostly a display of people who were angry, but did not resort to violence. We also told a side story of people, including children, who have raised money for our local law enforcement. It’s a touching, heartfelt side to the story that wouldn’t reach the public’s ears if not for the news media. That balance has to make a difference and help put out the flames.
      I am sorry you have been targeted by people who have resorted to name calling and threats. That is wrong. You do have a right to speak your mind, and you should. Had you not, it wouldn’t have started a dialog between the two of us that, I feel, is leading us to a better understanding of one another. I hope that dialog continues, for I have much to learn.
      With your permission, I wish to write another blog with your response to me.
      I just appreciate your openness. I know there is a cynical view of the media, and I understand it. Like with other jobs, there are bad apples, and there are good people who stumble. But believe me, most of us are good people who want to do a good job. I’m happy you are open minded enough to hear my story, and I appreciate you giving this lowly reporter the time to tell your story.

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  2. I certainly don’t consider you a lowly reporter! I appreciate you writing – I am the type person who always feels it is better to face your problems head on – even if your head gets butted! Feel free to share my thoughts. As I told you, I am open, transparent and normally have a good relationship with the media. To be honest, the post should probably have been more detailed but then it becomes a book, not a post! Local media is not 24/7 but after the 2 individual shootings this past week and then the peaceful riots that turned deadly for law enforcement “Media” to me was the word that came to mind. Social Media (which really isn’t very social), national media and the instant 24/7 news I personally feel encourages anger. Feel free to stay in touch.

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    • I use the term “lowly” with pride. I consider myself a servant. In my life, I’m here to serve God, although I don’t always do it very well. At work, I’m here to serve others in any way I can. So, lowly to me is a place where I can bow and humble myself and work as a servant for others.
      I’m sad it’s gotten to the point where my business is seen as harmful. I think this is a time for all of us, people from all walks of life, need to pause and reflect. A law enforcement friend of mine reached out to say we don’t focus enough time on the positive things officers do, stories that will balance out the occasional bad. His concerns should be a part of our newsroom discussions moving forward.
      Thank you again for reaching out to me. I’m glad we’ve started an open dialog so that peace and understanding can grow.

      Like

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