KSBW television says at the end of General Manager Joe Heston’s latest on-air editorial that the station welcomes responsible replies. Even though my middle name is Responsible, it’s hard to tell whether this will meet the standard, so here goes nothing.
The topic was surveillance cameras.
Years ago, writer Hunter Thompson was defending his style of rule-breaking journalism. He wrote that the only objective form of journalism was a surveillance camera in a store, but he corrected himself, saying that even that didn’t qualify because someone could decide when to turn it on and off.
That’s part of what’s wrong with Heston’s latest editorial, in which he gives unconditional support to installation of police surveillance cameras. (Not everywhere, of course, but in high-crime neighborhoods.) He anoints them as infallible, even headlining his piece “Cameras don’t lie.” The truth is, as even Heston knows, they do fib and they create misimpressions. Even law enforcement sees it that way. Oftentimes when a video camera catches a cop smacking someone around, the official line is that the camera didn’t record the events leading up to the smacking. “Oh, don’t be misled by what you saw on camera,” they tell us. “That’s out of context.”
When two Salinas cops recently shot and killed a man holding pruning shears, the action was caught by two cameras, but we were told they only caught a tiny bit of the part where he lunged at the officers.
I agree that surveillance cameras can be useful in the right place and the right time, but I don’t share Heston’s enthusiasm for their widespread use or his trust in their accuracy. I also am bothered by the way he dismisses people who don’t agree with him.
“With cities using surveillance cameras in public areas,” he tells us, “it should remind people that if you don’t have anything to hide, you don’t have anything to worry about.” In other words, if you don’t like it, you must be up to no good.
It is one of the worst arguments possible: I must be right because anyone who disagrees with me should be ignored.
The city of Salinas recently started using surveillance cameras and Seaside is about to start. Heston tells us that people shouldn’t worry because there are lots of cameras out there already—TV cameras, cell phone cameras, security cameras. Which is a little like saying don’t worry about a new source of pollution because there’s already a lot of pollution.
Heston concludes, “When an innocent bystander is killed during a community disturbance and a police officer is knocked unconscious by a bottle to the head, surveillance cameras may, sadly, be the only fearless, accurate, yet ever-silent witnesses to the crime. In those cases, the camera would be the Eye of Truth.”
Heston apparently doesn’t watch much baseball and hasn’t seen those instant replays of close calls. It’s a new thing in Major League Baseball this year. When the coach thinks the umpire got it wrong, he can ask for officials to watch the play again, on camera, in slow motion. As often as not, the replay from one angle makes it appear the umpire is right but the replay from another angle shows the coach is right.
Can both be right? Probably not. Can both be wrong? Absolutely. As Nietzsche said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”
By the way, any sort of reply to this editorial is invited, responsible or not, but those of you submitting the irresponsible type are encouraged to make note of that at the beginning so you don’t startle me.