To Kori Chambers and Sukanya Krishnan of PIX 11:
To allay any suspicion that a bias in favor of Spike Lee influenced my decision to write this message, I need you to understand that although I have enjoyed most of Spike Lee’s films, there are matters that he has been vocal about in the past with which I strongly disagree. For instance, while I understand that Lee’s respect for our ancestors prompted his refusal to see Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, my appreciation for that film demonstrates how generation gaps and ideological differences do not preclude my understanding of his perspective as an elder statesman in black culture and beyond.
But after watching your brief segment Wednesday morning, during which you reported on Spike Lee’s Black History Month speech at Pratt Institute, it upset me to see that journalists did not extend him the same courtesy. Instead of an objective account of an impassioned perspective, the tone of your report felt more like an attempt to sensationalize a private event at the expense of its value in an important public discourse.
Sukanya, you took the reins from Kori, who initially framed the newsworthy moment of Lee’s speech as a rant, and proceeded to obfuscate why a rant would be warranted in the first place. Spike Lee’s ire for gentrification is undeniable, but Lee’s reputation as an angry person clearly superseded the legitimacy of his concerns in the way you reported the story. Despite Kori’s attempt to grant credence to the unfortunate trend of working- and middle-class families being priced out of their homes, you doubled down with a Fox and Friends-esque approach to dismissing Lee outright, using an unnamed contingent of people to undermine a viewpoint that deserves more respect than you gave it:
“A lot of people are saying that, you know, that he’s being completely off-key and he’s smoking something from the Spike Lee joint.”
As clever as you and Kori may have thought your zinger was, Sukanya, it reeked of an elitism that justifies why Lee and many other longstanding New York residents are upset with the influx of real estate developers that have made the lives they’ve led for generations become cost-prohibitive. Then, you forfeited your opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the phenomenon in order to infringe upon Lee’s right to free speech:
“It’s been a long conversation, but, that being said, I mean, it doesn’t give you the right to go on and say that.”
By this point in the segment, Kori’s laughter at your unerring dismissal of Spike Lee seemed like an awkward attempt to lighten the mood of the desk. I, on the other hand, was in no mood to laugh at anything you said. However, I do have some questions:
Why would Spike Lee have no right to go on these so-called (multiple?) tirades during a speech that Pratt Institute invited him to give? Was it the “expletive-filled” language during that part of the event that you considered inappropriate, despite Pratt Institute being attended by adults? And what better time and place would there be than Black History Month at a college in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, where he grew up, to educate the creative future of the city about the eroding history happening around them?
While this segment was but 90 seconds of airtime, each second that journalists have to communicate to their audience is invaluable when it comes to providing a balanced service of information from which the public can engage in dialoge and draw their own conclusions. There are programs wherein the hosts have more leeway when it comes to how their own perspectives influence the reporting, but I did not think that PIX 11 Morning News was one of them.
To be fair to you both, I cannot suppose anything about either of you as people because I do not watch enough of your broadcasts to speak intelligently about your overall character. But I have no lapse in conviction when I say that in this instance, as journalists, you both disrespected your post. Kori, although you were not vocally on board with the prevailing attitude of the segment, you and Sukanya are a team, and it is only fair that you both take responsibility for demonstrating why the American public continues to lose faith in mainstream American journalism.