Whenever someone sees me coming with camera and questions in hand, they invariably ask ‘Where’s the Reporter?”
“Oh, it’s just me today,” I say while setting up my gear. I rarely tell them I most always work alone. It would take far too long to explain how years of babysitting rookie reporters drove me to go solo. They wouldn’t understand, anyway. And though I never do, I’m sometimes yearn to tell them about a young lady who pushed me over the professional edge - a diva in-the-making who oozed arrogance, incompetence and success. We'll call her Jasmine.
From the moment Jasmine arrived at my station, she pioneered new ways to piss people off. Though not technically a rookie, she'd spent a year or two as resident morning anchor bunny out west before making a sizable jump to my shop - where she was erringly heralded by management as 'the next Katie Couric'.
To her credit she wasn't half-bad on the set. With her stylish hair-do and reasonably good looks, she could melt the Windex off a teleprompter at fifty paces. Trouble was, she was hired to report - and after only a day or two it became glaringly obvious to our journeyman group of veteran photographers that this chick couldn't write a grocery list without a six person support staff.
This of course made her exceedingly unpopular with the lens-toting set. Every morning we'd slink in to see what unfortunate sap got 'the bullet'. Grown men would tremble in their photog vests as they watched the assignment editor chalk up their name beside hers. I know, I was one of them.
It wasn't just her lack of experience that made working with her such a traumatic experience. Jasmine seemed to regard anyone off-camera as a lower life-form and wouldn't listen to even the most well-intended advice. Never burdened with tact or charm, she had a preternatural ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Once we were in the home of a b-list NASCAR driver, doing morning live shots with a bunch of racing wives as they hawked an upcoming tour of homes. Jasmine simply didn't 'get' NASCAR and went on and on to the assembled trophy wives how stock car racing was 'a bunch of hillbillies riding in circles'. Silence fell over the kitchen we were huddled in and I fought the urge to low-crawl out of the room as the clueless news queen endlessly disparaged the industry that paid for all those palatial homes. The NASCAR wives threw silent daggers with their eyes but my vapid partner-for-the-day never got the hint. I even agreed with much of what she said, but as she prattled on about 'the idiocy of all motor-sports', all I could do was stare at my tripod and fight the urge to bludgeon her to death with it. She was quite simply, the most unlikable person I have ever met. That's saying a lot, considering the business I’m in.
For awhile her fate seemed delightfully shaky as she butchered a series of high-profile live shots. Not used to working outside the cushy confines of the studio, the little anchor princess repeatedly short-circuited on camera, prompting low-key high-fives from the control room to the photog's lounge. If this world-class vixen was going to crash and burn LIVE every night, her co-workers were more than eager to make popcorn and roll tape.
Sadly, I was the poor schlub saddled to her star the day she halfway redeemed herself. It was an impossibly muggy summer afternoon when she and I rushed to the scene of a fatal house fire. Deep in the barrio of an outlying county, a run-down house had burnt to the ground, killing three small children of an extended migrant family, and whipping the surrounding community into a frenzy.
It was bedlam when we rolled up. Grim-faced paramedics and firefighters milled about as a growing crowd of shocked neighbors whispered and wailed outside the smoking rubble of the gutted home. To make matters infinitely worse, the crowd of shrieking family members and looky-loo's spoke only Spanish. "No problem", Jasmine declared, "so do I". But I had my doubts as she grabbed my wireless microphone and delved into the crowd of grief-stricken Hispanics.
My suspicions were right when, after using the three Spanish words she knew, she stared blankly at the rush of foreign words her questions sparked. As she spun around helplessly with microphone in hand, I did my best to hide behind a light pole.
Eventually she gave up, resigned to the fact we'd have to rely on sound from the fire chief . Even that was painful, as she repeatedly asked the chief WHY he didn't yet know what started the blaze. He shot me questioning looks and I did my best to pantomime an apology. When she finally ran out of yes/no questions, I managed to lock her in our recently-arrived satellite truck. I was doing my best to soothe the fire chief's feathers when Jasmine escaped from the truck and bounded up to me with the joyous glee of a showcase showdown winner...
"We got the 911 tape! We got the 911 tape!", she bellowed through her perfect grin. Glancing at the aggrieved family (who understood enough English to know this vile women was doing back-flips over the bodies of their dead children), I herded her back into the truck and considered throttling her with an orange drop-cord.
Instead I sat with her as she stared at her empty reporter's pad. Despite the fact I wanted to see her fail spectacularly, I listened to myself give her an idea of where to start the story. After about a half hour we were ready to track audio, most of the words coming out of her mouth my very own. When it came time to go live she got through the three line intro and close with barely a hitch, much to my chagrin (and relief).
On the way back to the station, she basked in the after-glow of her first successful live shot in weeks, as I tried not to bite a hole in my lip. She was obviously aware of her precarious position with the bosses and now oozed self-absorbed relief.
"Ya know, I really think it was fate", she said as she checked her look in the mirror, "it was God's way of rewarding me for working so hard. I just needed the chance to show them what I can do..."
I stared at the stretch of two-lane blacktop in front of us and tried to process what I was hearing.
"Let me get this straight", I asked, "God killed three Mexican kids so YOU could have a good live shot?"
The rest of the trip was in silence.
‘Jasmine' held on to her gig a little while longer before being unceremoniously dismissed and replaced. I'm not sure where she landed but I'm certain she hoodwinked some other news executive and is no doubt out-earning me as I write this. Which, in the world of TV news, makes perfect sense.