Three Reactions at Eyewitness New s
1. Scott Clark, team player
At 10:15 p.m. on May 1, the day Time Warner kept ABC programming off its cable systems, Scott Clark, the burly, gray-haired sports anchor for Eyewitness News , swaggered up to WABC headquarters at West 66th Street and Columbus Avenue. He was swinging his umbrella and puffing on a short cigar.
What did he make of the situation?
“We’ve not been told to expect anything,” he said, removing the cigar from his mouth. “It hasn’t deterred our jobs. It hasn’t affected our jobs. We are going about our jobs. There are more questions than answers. It’s out of our hands. We’re merely workers here.”
With that he tapped The Observer ‘s thigh with the end of his umbrella, smiled and strolled into the WABC building, as though he were wearing a towel around his waist.
2. Bill Ritter, philosopher
Later, Bill Ritter, the tall, dark, handsome news man who does double duty as a corespondent for 20/20 and as an anchor for the 11 o’clock local news, reflected on the experience of delivering the news to an audience that cannot see or hear you.
“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s that whole tree-falls-in-the-woods concept. But more along the lines of, If we do a great story, and nobody watches it, is it still a great story? I mean, objectively, sure. And are my bosses watching?”
He said that the phones hadn’t been ringing any more or less frequently in the studio that night.
“I worked on Good Morning America Sunday ,” he said “We could have been yelling and screaming into the camera and all of four people might have heard us. I’ve worked the weekend long enough to know that it doesn’t really matter. I’ve worked the lowest and highest audiences, and it effects you a lot more when a lot of people are watching.”
The lead story Mr. Ritter read Monday evening concerned–you guessed it–the Time Warner-Disney dispute itself, which he wrote.
Later, he compared the situation to “two giant skunks in a great spraying match.” “One skunk is bigger,” he said. “Time Warner.” But this is something he could not say on TV.
3. Sam Champion, trivia maven
“During thunderstorm watches,” said five, six and 11 o’clock weatherman Sam Champion, “we’ve lost cable systems and had blackouts before. But you don’t gauge your performance with how many people watch.”
Mr. Champion is the blond personification of the AccuWeather meteorology system. He said that the business end of the business is none of his business.
His job, he said, “is to give the people of New York everything they need for the next five days. I like to think that we offer the city’s most thorough weather broadcast, and that if this went on for a long time people would be effected.”
As far as the night in question–a balmy evening with scattered drizzle–Mr. Champion reported that he “came in at the same time as always. We used the same quality graphics. And gave the same information.”
According to Mr. Champion, the news team filled their commercial breaks with the usual “racy” banter. And none of it had to do with the “non-event” of the dispute.
“We were trying to figure out who sang ‘Wildfire,’” he said. “Do you know?”
Um, Dan Fogelberg?
“Michael Murphey,” he said.
Thank you, Sam.
The Busy Anarchist
Dennis Burke is a 19-year-old anarchist who lives on the Lower East Side. He carries around a little black appointment book full of radical events and meetings he doesn’t have to attend, because he is philosophically opposed to having to do events and meetings. But usually he feels like showing up at these things, because he is a full-time anarchist and doesn’t have anywhere else he has to be. Most of his friends have similar schedules.
On a recent Saturday night Mr. Burke was in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn at a May Day organizational meeting. His fellow radicals milled around, trying to get organized. “Let’s circle up, folks,” a number of them kept saying.
Mr. Burke was asked whether he could spare a few minutes. “I think we’re going to circle up now,” he said. “But I can talk to you for a while.”
Mr. Burke, a native of South Boston, is tall and skinny with gaunt face and slate colored eyes. He wore green army pants cut off below the knees, sneakers, a gray hooded sweatshirt and a backwards Boston Red Sox cap. He spoke in a barely audible monotone.
“Last night, we walked across the Williamsburg Bridge to a loft party,” he said. “There were videos playing there of actions I’ve been in. It had a video of the night there was a police riot at Esperanza, where a friend of mine had two ribs broken and another friend had a dislocated jaw.”
He moved to New York last fall after graduating from high school. Since then, he has had many confrontations with the police. It’s been a busy few months. He has protested the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, animal testing, police brutality, the Amadou Diallo decision, the city’s attempts to evict community gardens, the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s rule against assembling in front of City Hall. Sewn on to his sweatshirt is a patch depicting a policeman saying, “I’m going to kick your ass and get away with it.”
He has been arrested twice by the New York Police Department: once on Nov. 26 during a demonstration of a group called Reclaim the Streets, and once last winter when he chained his neck to a fence at a community garden the city was trying to bulldoze.
During the first incident, Mr. Burke was charged with assaulting a police officer. “It was because I went limp and the arresting officer who I didn’t see at the scene hurt her wrist carrying me,” he explained.
Mr. Burke spent three nights at Rikers Island and has a trial coming up. Since October Mr. Burke has worked two jobs for money; one lasted two hours and the other lasted two days. The first was as a plumbers assistant, which Mr. Burke liked pretty well, but it was a small job. The second was at a “bio-dynamic organic market.”
The lack of steady employment, however, isn’t really a problem because Mr. Burke does not have much use for money. He does not pay rent, buy clothes or compact discs, eat in restaurants, drink alcohol, do drugs or smoke. He eats a lot of vegetable soup, pudding and rice and beans at Food Not Bombs, a mobile soup kitchen where he cooks and serves.
“One thing I try not to do is use money or buy anything,” said Mr. Burke. “I’ve only bought seven different items since mid-January. Today I bought a bike tire and bike inner tube for $13. Before I bought two other bike inner tubes, a bike patch kit, and a lock and chain.”
That’s it? “I was going to buy a flashlight but changed my mind.”
I asked Mr. Burke, who lives in squatted buildings on the Lower East Side, what he hopes to be doing in 10 years. “I’m not looking that far ahead,” he said. “Some things I don’t plan on doing are getting a regular job, paying taxes and paying rent. I hope to never pay rent.”
It was time for Mr. Burke to circle up with his colleagues and plan some May Day events: a march for amnesty for undocumented workers, a squatters gathering in Tompkins Square Park, a teach-in on the Vietnam War with Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman, and a Reclaim the Streets meeting.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Burke said. “It probably depends on the police.”
– J. K. Dineen