The Audacity of Complaints


Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with a local school teacher who was participating in an interesting professional development program that allows educators to shadow people in different fields so that they can learn more about those fields and pass that knowledge along to their future students.

This teacher spent a good deal of the week at Channel 37, and one day was spent in my department learning about how we do promotion. We sat down and chatted before she got to sit with my producers and watch them actually make the “doughnuts,” and in a sort of informal interview, one of the questions she asked me was what I thought had changed most in the past 10 years or so.

Well, there’s always technology. But that’s always changing.

What I said was the most surprising change is the audacity of the general public when they criticize what we do. There are plenty of well-mannered, well-brought-up people who act like they’ve never heard the word manners when they have something to say about something we’ve covered.

They say things that no well-mannered person would say. They imply things that would make them mad as hell if they were on the receiving end of such a tirade, and they don’t seem to notice or care.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about. First, from NPR, here’s a caller who’s complaining to Lewis Black about mocking Judaism, yet can’t seem to come up with even one example of what he’s complaining about.

If I were Black, I wouldn’t have let that call ruin my day; there’s no meat on that burger. But that caller had a burr up his butt over something, and he was convinced that Black had an agenda. And he wasn’t about to convinced otherwise.

Here’s another example, this time from the Post and Courier, the local newspaper here in Charleston. Each week, I imagine it’s a few times a week, Public Editor Elsa McDowell answers reader comments, questions, and complaints. And as you might guess, it’s usually complaints, deserved or not.

In Saturday’s paper, a sports fan left this comment:

“Look at the headline on Wednesday’s Sports front: ‘Lefty right at home at Torrey Pines’. Why wouldn’t you have used a story about Tiger Woods, since he has won there six times and must surely feel at home? That’s what I expect of the biased Post and Courier.”

The first question I would have asked — which is why I would never be hired as the paper’s public editor — is this: “If you expect us to be so biased, why are you reading our paper at all? Sort of an exercise in frustration, isn’t it?”

McDowell didn’t say that. But her response was just as entertaining:

“The easy answer is that a story about Tiger Woods looking strong for the U.S. Open at Torrey Hills was at the top of Tuesday’s Sports front.

Wednesday’s story reported on Phil Mickelson, who was paired with Tiger Woods and who grew up in San Diego and played high school matches at Torrey Pines.

Both are big names to watch in the tournament.”

I wonder if the reader ever bothered to read the column. There’s a good chance he or she didn’t, because other than the possible curiosity about whether the paper would run the complaint, I’m sure the reader already had his or her mind made up about the paper’s “bias,” whatever he or she thinks it is, and likely isn’t interested in reading the paper’s explanation.

I remember a viewer once writing to ask us if we “felt like a real slimeball” over a question we asked. I wonder if that reader felt like a real slimeball after learning the paper had already done exactly what he said they should have done.

Probably not.

I wonder if reading this, he or she might send an apology to the paper for the incorrect assumption.

Surely not.

Then, there’s the television viewer, who at times, can be an incredibly rude. Years ago, one of these religious groups who attempt to serve as the world’s sole defender of the family — a preposterous notion — organized a massive letter-writing campaign to boycott a little show called Book of Daniel. They accused NBC of mocking Christianity. (They weren’t.) They accused the show of destroying the image of Jesus Christ. (It didn’t.) They accused the writers of having the agenda to glorify sex, adultery, drug use, etc. (They didn’t.)

What I found so ironic was that the majority of these complaints came in before the show had premiered. So all of these people writing to tell NBC affiliates how bad the show was, how much it fell short of “community standards” and how it was an insult to Christianity hadn’t seen the show at all. Therefore, they clearly had no idea what they were talking about.

An angry viewer, obviously sporting his own burr up the butt, wrote in suggesting that the media’s goal is to break up the American family.

I’m wasn’t the one at the station, thankfully, who had to respond to such questions. If I was that person, as my best friend might say, “I’d send ‘em home crying.” Because I don’t tolerate stupid crap.

Why would it be the media’s goal to break up the American family? What’s to gain with that?

Seriously. Think about it for a minute. Unlike the person who made that comment way back then.

As a broadcaster, the last thing I want to do is break up American families. I’d much prefer that they are all united. Old and young, male and female, nuclear and extended. All joining hands, sitting in a semi-circle around the television.

Watching my channel.

But even clear logic isn’t enough to convince the media haters. And more and more, it seems to be getting worse.

I think that people have always been skeptical of the media. But the level of rudeness seems to have increased. And I’m not really sure why that is. Granted, we’re not a very polite society, anymore. But when some of the most rude and accusatory comments are coming in from people who are part of so-called “family” or “Christian” groups, there’s something really wrong with that picture.

It sounds cliché, but it’s true: if they walked a mile in our shoes, I think they’d see things somewhat differently.

And they might just be a little nicer.


  1. […] Patrick’s concern is the audience: one of the questions she asked me was what I thought had changed most in the past 10 years or so. […]

  2. It’s not just in media – they do that to everyone now – to their kids’ teachers, their doctors, the police, the local government, etc.

    Where did it all start – televangelists and Rush Limbaugh maybe? People being on TV claiming they held the monopoly on truth when really they were just ignorant hate mongers ?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.