People Care What Others Think: Including David Letterman, Tom Brokaw, and ABC’s Nightline
And Shakedown Artists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton Know It
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
The Montana Pioneer fielded an inquiry recently from Alyssa Litoff, a producer at Nightline, ABC’s late night news show. The request was simple—any photo we might have of a certain Bozeman real estate developer. No mention was made, at first, of why Nightline wanted the photo. We followed up with Litoff though and learned that Nightline was doing a story on blackmail called The Art of the Shakedown. Aired on Oct. 20, the story revealed that the developer had been the victim of just such a crime–perpe-trated by his mistress who appeared on the program (a story to which significant ink was devoted locally). The woman had recently been convicted of blackmail, having tried to extort money from the developer, and after an FBI sting operation caught her red handed (launched in connection with a prostitution inves-tigation).
During my interaction with Nightline, I mentioned that I knew someone who knew a family member of the developer, and that he was sure the family did not want any more publicity related to the case. I was struck, then, while watching the Nightline report, to see that the Bozeman developer was not mentioned by name, nor was his photo shown. Only the mistress appeared on the broadcast (in a sympathetic light, allowing her to cast herself as a victim, and say that had she and the developer been married she would have received alimony, that she deserved to be paid off. That adultery hardly merits such consid-eration eluded Nightline).
The Art of the Shakedown began with other recent foiled attempts at extortion as perpetrated unsuccess-fully against David Letterman, John Travolta, and Jack in the Box, Inc. over the false claim of an E. coli contaminated hamburger. The latter, a corporate shakedown (another FBI sting) is the most common variety, Nightline reported—though the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton escaped the report, who squeeze corporations for cash “donations” so they can forgo being labeled racist by these two highly skilled and unscrupulous shakedown artists.
Nightline, it seems, chose to follow up on the suggestion that the developer’s family could do without further negative publicity. The story could be told, they must have decided, without mentioning the family’s name, and that’s quite a thing in this day and age when the news media are more prone to feed like opportunistic predators than take into account the plight of their human targets. Perhaps our comments to Alyssa Litoff had something to do with Nightline’s treatment of the story. We can’t say for sure, but the signs are certainly there. And can you imagine the torment of those whose names are continually mentioned in the media, and whose faces are shown hour after hour on cable and network news shows in connection with excruciating personal ordeals, like the Travolta’s (see details online, if you must) or regarding other personal tragedies.
Negative publicity is indeed a difficult thing to bear, having shameful secrets or the most troub-ling ordeals of your life compounded exponentially by the glare of the press, local or national.
Perhaps we here have been guilty to a much lesser degree of same, though such instances would had to have been rare and mild. By way of example, an ironic one, I recall having found myself one summer evening several years ago walking side by side with Tom Brokaw down Main Street in Livingston. I said hello, introducing myself and calling him by his first name, and he kindly replied in the same manner. Great, I thought, seems like an okay guy. I then told him that I publish the Montana Pioneer, thinking he may not have heard of the publication, busy guy that he is, and he nodded, but with faint disapproval. He looked at me in what I interpreted as a haughty way—lifting his chin slightly before speaking, as he does—and said, Leave me out.
Having somewhat looked up to the guy after his poignant and historically insightful treatment of WW II Veterans (one of whom was my father) in his book The Greatest Generation, and having written about that in this publication, I was taken aback.
I’ll try, I said (to leave him out of the paper). Brokaw then replied, You have a nice evening (punctuating his terse remark) and walked off. Our conversation lasted less than ten seconds.
I recalled we had perhaps published something about Brokaw he may not have liked, having to do with a local land dispute already in the news. I also recall our story about his book signing in Big Timber, writing in positive terms about The Greatest Generation, and what a signed copy meant to my father, to whom he scribbled a hurried but kind inscription.
I don’t mean to demonize over one incident, or take a man’s full measure by it. Yet having since thought about the encounter, the irony of it, I have at times wondered how many people over the course of Tom Brokaw’s long career would like to have been left out of his reports, the effect of unwanted publicity spread by an NBC News anchor being astronomically greater than anything put out by a local rag in southwest Montana. And so my reaction over time evolved from the feeling of having been handily snubbed by one of the most notable journalistic figures in the world to the realization that he himself is sensitive to even the slightest negative publicity.
Over the years since that time, Brokaw has escaped these pages, until now. I said I would try to leave him out, not necessarily that I would—and so my efforts at that have now failed. And why? Because that which is told here is a good story, relevant to current events, one worth telling and that people want to hear, and Brokaw himself made that decision countless times over the years, bringing the spotlight of publicity upon so very many who would rather have enjoyed the comfort and security of anonymity.
And there is a lesson to be learned in the telling of this story that teaches us something about ourselves: No matter how emphatically we assert that we don’t care what others think of us, we do, we care a great deal. We prefer that people think of us in positive terms, or leave us alone.