Sunday, April 10, 2011

I want your side of the story -- if it fits my story

About a month ago, a few days before St. Patrick's Day, a reporter from AOL contacted me. He was researching a story about the "hassles" little people encounter on the holiday. Probably each year since 2006, when I was appointed to the role of spokesperson for Little People of America, reporters have contacted the organization for a comment on the holiday. Prior to my time on the board of directors, and during my time on the board of directors, the organization had been sending the message that, for people with dwarfism who don't take gigs as Leprechauns on St. Patrick's Day, March 17 can be an anxious day. Especially in a big city that celebrates the holiday with a parade and a lot of alcohol, some little people are concerned about being approached by strangers in an obnoxious way. Just last year, I was asked if some little people might feel about St. Patrick's Day the way some Native Americans might feel about Columbus Day. I consented, saying, "Yes," some may feel that way. That reporter's story made the statement that St. Patrick's Day is a day of mourning for people with dwarfism.

When the AOL reporter contacted me this year, I thought about the story from 2010. Considering that I've never heard anyone refer to St. Patrick's Day as a day of mourning, I've never been approached by anyone in a rude way on St. Patrick's Day, and I haven't heard of anyone who has been approached in a rude way on St. Patrick's Day in the last year, I believed it was time for me to stop feeding the idea of St. Patrick's Day as a difficult time. Over email, I told the reporter that I didn't believe St. Patrick's Day to be a significant issue.

Soon after I sent that email, a different reporter from AOL contacted me over email. This was a reporter who I knew and who I liked. Previously, he covered LPA's response to Michael Steele's comment about "one-armed midgets," and we worked together on a story during the Brooklyn LPA Conference in 2009. This reporter wrote to me, "I can't imagine wanting to print this piece without LPA's perspective." I wrote back, writing not about St. Patrick's Day, but about opportunities, trying to stress that in spirit LPA is about working to open up opportunities, and that these opportunities should be available to both people with dwarfism and people without dwarfism. We wrote back and forth a couple of times. The original reporter, who first solicited me for an interview, I wrote to only once, basically telling him I didn't want to interview.

Coincidentally, Ethan and I hit the road for Freeburg, Illinois to kick-off the Midwest Advocacy Project on St. Patrick's Day. We had a lot to do that day and we had five hours of driving before we could start our work. So we woke up early. Before we left, I wanted to know if any St. Patrick's Day stories ran. As soon as I got up, I searched the internet for the AOL Story and any other stories about Leprechauns and dwarfism. The AOL piece did run. Here is a link to the AOL Story.

Rereading the story a month later, I am not as perplexed as I was when I read it at 6 a.m. on March 17. I am glad the piece included the statement about 'leveling the playing field.' But I find it weird (take that AOL 'Weird' news) that the story included this bit:

Leprechauns are a part of Irish folklore, but their association with the holiday can cause undue misery for some little people, according to Gary Arnold, spokesman for Little People of America, a support group for Americans of short stature due to dwarfism.

"Some little people still cringe when they go to a bar on St. Patrick's Day," Arnold confessed. "It reinforces the traditional stereotype that we're nonhuman."

I probably did say that. But the issue I have is that at least a year has passed since I made the statement. In a case like this, I don't know what standards apply for reporters. Maybe it's okay to use an old quote for a current story. But issues change over time. If they were just going to use what I had said about the issue previously, why did they contact me in the first place? Who knows? But I don't think it's the first time a story was written according to what an audience, or a media outlet wants, and not according to what is actually happening.

No comments:

Post a Comment