False Portrait

Reversing the news media obsession with evil

| November-December 1995

Newspeople are very good at conveying their version of how we die. They do poorly at telling us how we live. As a result, we limp through our daily lives burdened with stereotypes foisted upon us through distorted images of criminals and race. Out of fear we recede from each other, instead of reaching toward each other, learning and cooperating to build our communities.

After the Detroit uprisings of 1967, public television sent me to do a documentary on its causes and effects. The film’s title—Do You Think a Job Is the Answer?—came from a question a young black man asked me as I was interviewing him. His name was Lloyd Love. He was 20, a high school dropout dividing his time between an Urban League street academy, where he was supposed to earn an equivalency certificate, and the streets, where, he told me, he and his friends committed crimes. I asked him if he’d ever had a job.

“I thought of takin’ a job,” he said, “but my old man, he had a job workin’ at the factory, and if that’s what I have to have for my kids, what he had for me, then I don’t need to be in the factory.

“And they think that’s the answer—a job? Do you think that’s the answer?”

Twenty years later the Detroit public TV station asked me to find the people in the original film and report on their lives and the life of Detroit. Their personal histories and their perspectives on the changes Detroit has gone through made riveting television. Nothing like it makes the evening news.

The week I interviewed Lloyd Love he was turning 40. I asked him to watch himself as he was at 20, on a screen in the studio, and to tell me what had become of him in all those years. He looked at me as if I was crazy and said, “You mean, like, in a nutshell?”