Thursday, August 18, 2005

I may be a writer, but I just don't understand journalists.

My news clipping service sent me a link from today's Knoxville News, called "Hope in a bottle." The article focuses on Lee Sims, a young man who has HIV/AIDS. Now, I must admit that I had absolutely no business clicking on the article at all, since it opened with a description of flowers AND was culled by the clip service based on the keyword "blind." I have learned, over the year since I began receiving these clips in my inbox, to stay away from anything with "Hope" or "Hero" in the title, flowers, animals, little children, coffins or tombstones in the blub that accompanies the link. But I thought I could handle it, since this appeared to relate to HIV, and maybe blindness, not mobility problems or wheelchair users.

I was wrong. The article features several photos-- the first one shows Sims crying. The caption explains that he was overcome with emotion "remembering how, as he lay in a hospital bed in 1994, he overhead a doctor telling his parents to make funeral arrangements for him." The second catches him making a "lipstick face" while someone else's index finger applies lip balm; this caption identifies the disembodied hand as his mother's. The caption continues: "Lee, who has lost his vision, keeps the lip balm, his medications and other daily necessities in a zippered bag in a certain place, so he can find it while his mother is at work." My immediate reaction was anger. Why the #@$% can't he put on his own lip balm? Just two pictures and their captions were enough to put a knot in my gut, and force me to read the rest of the (painful) article-- just so I could try to figure out the reporter's purpose. The article is really just a long list of Sims' tribulations. It goes into great detail about AIDS drugs and their arduous schedules, mentions in passing that at least Sims is still alive, and ends with the following quote: "I want things the way they were," he said. "I just can't seem to accept the fact that they're not going to be." I've seen articles like this all my life; What's the big deal? Still, I was angry. I read it again, scrolling up to the top several times to look at this guy's face.

On about my tenth scroll back up to look at those irritating pictures, it hit me. The stupid article's just a stupid article. The reason I'm so ticked off is that in those two pictures, the guy is doing things I Hate: 1. Crying about his illness and 2. Letting someone help him with a simple bodily task he can do for himself. On top of that, he's letting the newspaper take pictures of him doing both. Suddenly I can clearly hear the little tantrum going on in my head and my solar plexus: Has he no shame? If he hasn't, why is that newsworthy? I want to read about people who, whether they have disabilities or not, approach their lives with vigor, responsibility, and humor. Heck, as long as they don't gush about sunbeams and butterflies, I even want a little optimism.

For whatever reason, this article portrays none of that from Sims. I wonder: If I call him up, will he 1. be a cool guy who sometimes gets depressed or lazy, or 2. be as soppy and disgusting as the article?

I'd bet on number 1. So why did the reporter write the story that way?

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