The Consequences of Speaking Truth to Power

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Ben Cohen
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By Ben Cohen

Speaking truth to power is not easy in America. In fact, it is almost suicidal. In todays job market, you must sign your life over to a corporation and forget any thoughts that could be deemed too independant if you want to make a decent living. Speaking out could cost you your job, making the price too high to pay.

Chez Pazienza was a senior news producer for CNN untill the company discovered he wrote a blog expressing his own opinion. Pazienza was consequently fired, and deprived of his living. Educated, articulate, Pazienza decided to fight back. Here is his story:

By Chez Pazienza.

Maybe this was always the way it had to be.

When I was 19, I broke into the offices of WVUM -- the radio station at the University of Miami -- live, during an installment of my weekly radio show. I raided a file cabinet and my crew and I proceeded to read the minutes of that week's executive board meeting on the air, paying special attention to a recurring topic of conversation among my apparently exasperated supervisors -- a series of incidents which, collectively, were referred to as "The Chez Situation."

The board as a whole was less-than-pleased with, for example, my insistence on jokingly pointing out to my audience the fact that WVUM's faculty adviser seemed to be waging and winning a valiant war against sobriety, and as such deserved congratulations all-around. There was also my insinuation that one of the station's sponsors, a club which had just opened on South Beach, would likely be closed in two weeks then renamed and reopened two weeks later. (In fact, it took about a month to close.)

I regularly ignored the program director's God-awful musical "suggestions," choosing instead to play whatever I felt like hearing.

I ridiculed the University's decision to replace the garbage cans on campus with new, attractive, and extraordinarily expensive stone receptacles immediately after making an announcement that tuition for the coming year would be skyrocketing.

I poked fun at the frat boys.

I advocated mischievous insurrection.

I occasionally threw out a few low-level swear words on-air.

I was kind of a punk kid, and I admit it.

Yet, despite the all of this, I remained on the air simply because even though my superiors may have been irritated by the fallout from my juvenile antics, they usually found the antics themselves eminently entertaining. I was good at what I did; I had a voice and I wasn't the least bit afraid to use it, consequences be damned -- or not considered at all. Being exactly who I was, for whatever reason, seemed to be more important to me than any other consideration.

When I got into television, I did my best to bury my inner-revolutionary. For 16 years I've been a successful producer and manager of TV news, cranking out creative, occasionally daring content on good days and solid, no-frills material on the days in between. I've won several awards and for the most part can say that I'm proud of what I've done in the business, particularly since I never intended to get into it in the first place; by the time college was over, I was playing steadily in a band and fully believed sleeping on floors and subsisting on beer and Taco Bell to be an entirely noble endeavor. I wound up working at WSVN in Miami only after the band imploded, taking my dreams of rock n' roll glory with it. Since those earliest days, I've come to understand that the libertine, pirate ship mentality I found so seductive during my time in a rock band is pretty much a staple of most newsrooms, particularly at the local level. What's more, it's accompanied by a slightly better paycheck (although often only slightly).

Over the past several years though, something has changed. Drastically. And I'm not sure whether it's me, or television news, or both.

With the exception of the period immediately following 9/11, which saw the best characteristics of television journalism shocked back into focus and the passion of even the most jaded and cynical of its practitioners return like a shot of adrenaline to the heart, the profession I once loved and felt honored to be a part of has lost its way.

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