I don’t remember the exact year it happened, but I was attending an Evergreen conference in the late 1990’s. I had just met Dave Pruden for the first time, although I had seen him at conferences before. When he heard my name, he exclaimed in that distinctive voice of his, “Oh, you’re famous!”He explained to me that many people had told him about the things I had written on the internet in the days before “blog” became a much-recognized word. I was both flattered and gratified. It was the first time I realized that I wasn’t just writing things into the ether yet no one was reading. I was making a difference.
There was an announcement later in the conference when things started that there would be a reporter from a local Salt Lake City news station looking for people who were willing to be on camera. I, being all heady over the encounter with Dave Pruden, was one of four volunteers, two of them an older couple, and the other, David Matheson.
I didn’t feel I had too much to lose by agreeing to be interviewed. My name had already been on the internet with my issues and feelings plastered all over for anyone to see, and that by my own choice. I was already well aware of who appreciated my point of view and who didn’t. When you’re open, people let you know.
I was a little concerned about my appearance. I was sporting a full beard and was big enough to be worried that the cruel camera would make me look like a behemoth. I later joked, upon seeing what aired, that I thought I looked like an axe murderer.
I didn’t see the older couple’s interview, but I was nearby when David Matheson first sat down with the reporter. I remember that he spelled out for the reporter what he was willing to say and what he wasn’t. At the time, I thought he was a little too assertive about it, but came to see the wisdom in it later.
I felt like the interview went well. I thought I was saying good stuff and representing my point of view. I felt relaxed and the answers flowed.
That evening, in my hotel room, I watched myself on the news. What struck me even more than how enormous I looked was that my fifteen minutes in front of the camera ended up being about twenty seconds on the television screen. It wouldn’t have bothered me so much if what they had chosen to show bore any resemblance to how I felt about things.
Lesson 1: Don’t expect to be well-represented by the reporter or the camera.
The next year, in case they asked, I was ready to volunteer, but thought I would have better luck with a different reporter from a different station. It was really no different. I spoke at length. They aired a few seconds. They gave more time to some USU professor who said I suffered from a stigma. I joked to my friends that it was an unfair statement because I have better-than-average eyesight. Nobody got it.
Lesson 2: Realize that they’re going to have someone rebut you and try to make you look pathetic.
Another year, my wife came with me and we both agreed to be interviewed. It went about the same, but this time, the reporter wanted to get a shot of us walking down the hall hand-in-hand after the interview. He promised us no one else would be in the shot, but as we approached the main hall, the camera operator followed us in. People where scattering everywhere, diving over rows of chairs to get out of the camera’s view.
Lesson 3: Don’t trust the reporter or the cameraman. They’ll promise whatever will help them to paint the picture in their heads.
My most recent interview happened during the filming of “The Mormons“, a PBS documentary by filmmaker, Helen Whitney. For it, I was flown to Salt Lake and sat down for a lengthy talk with her. It was a very pleasant experience. She’s a good interviewer and, I would say, the most honest and trustworthy of the lot.
Alas, I’ll never know what would have made it to the final cut, since I was completely cut out of the whole thing. Somehow, I think I would have been treated fairly, if she had had her way. The documentary ended up having no representation for anyone with anything close to my point of view.
Lesson 4: Be ready to be disappointed when you hit the cutting room floor.
These are only some of the lessons I’ve learned. Between these brief forays into the world of television and my extensive writing on the internet about myself and my life, the main thing I’ve learned is that there’s no way to please everyone. You’ll say things and do things that seem to you like they should convince everyone and find out later that you’re like Joseph Smith, of whom the Angel Moroni said that his “name would be had for good and evil (Joseph Smith–History 1:33).”
The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not it is worth it. Even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I look back and still think it was worth it. I stood up for myself and for my faith. I opened my mouth and declared myself to be a believer. What people do with it is up to them.
Not that anyone is asking, but I would probably do it again. I’d try to be a little more prepared. I’d speak up in advance about what I’m willing to talk about and what I’m not. I’d figure that being ridiculed is part of the game. I would think about what might happen if I agree to doing “stunty” stuff. I’d realize that most if not all that I say will never see the screen. The first thing I’d do after an interview is try to write down as much of it as I could remember.
Most of all, I’d do what I tried to do with every opportunity that came. I’d testify that the gospel is true and that I’m happy with the life I’ve been given.