CNN redux

Four times between 17 April and 19 April 2002, the Cable News Network (CNN) broadcast a three-minute-long piece on Bill Brown and his efforts to alert the public to the proliferation of unmarked surveillance cameras in public places. This was the second such piece that CNN has aired; the first was broadcast three times between 30 March 2000 and 31 March 2000. Evidently Bill merited a second look from CNN in part because he'd been a guest on a "serious" news show broadcast by National Public Radio on 25 February 2002; because the first CNN piece on him was reported by Jeanne Moos, a "light-hearted" reporter of feature stories, and not a reporter of serious news, such as Garrick Utley; and in part because Moos's piece focused on the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) and their performances, not on the walking tours of heavily surveilled neighborhoods in Manhattan that Bill has been giving since Thanksgiving 2000.

Taped in late February 2002, Utley's piece was quickly placed on "the back burner" by CNN bigwigs when, in answer to the veteran reporter's questions, both the New York Police Department and the Times Square Business Improvement District denied that they operate any surveillance cameras in Times Square, which is where Bill took the CNN crew on the day of the taping. Rather than report the occurrence of these obvious lies -- which is precisely what Bill did as soon as he heard about them -- CNN decided that it simply wouldn't run the piece.

The piece would surely have burned to a crisp on "the back burner" had it not been for Bill Brown's efforts to save it. (Reporters do not end up on Bill's list of dead-ends without being provided plenty of opportunities to escape this ignominious fate.) The call to CNN that did the trick was the one on 16 April 2002, which reported that, in a few days, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) was going to air a piece on the walking tours and that, if CNN didn't run the thing Garrick Utley taped, it would appear that CBS had scooped CNN, and not the reverse. CNN clearly sees CBS as competition, for the former ran Utley's piece the day after Bill called.

Too bad that Utley's segment is such a bad piece of reporting (much worse than the segment broadcast by CBS, or even the one produced by Jeanne Moos!) Not only does it fail to mention the SCP -- which makes all the attention paid to what Bill Brown says seem arbitrary and uncalled for -- but it also has as its major theme the "fact" that the American public just doesn't care if unmarked surveillance cameras are being installed all over the place and are being operated by people who are unseen and unsupervised. Since Utley doesn't offer anything to back up this obviously incorrect assertion, nor bother to tell his viewers what the American public does care about (one would imagine that it cares about "fighting crime" or waging "war on terrorism"), his piece seems to be unfinished, missing something important or, rather, several important things.

For example: Why isn't there an interview with someone other than Brown and Utley? Couldn't CNN find a "man on the street" who was willing to say that he's less concerned with his privacy being invaded than with being a victim of crime or an act of terrorism? If such a person couldn't be found, then isn't Bill Brown less out-of-step with public opinion that CNN makes him seem? And if Bill's less out-of-step than he seems, then why can't CNN find anyone who agrees with him?

Contact the NY Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail

By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

NY Surveillance Camera Players