Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Aug. 26: Words, Words, Words....

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Last night at the Democratic National Convention included the inspiring sight and speech of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer.

Less inspiring was the Associated Press description of Kennedy as "ailing and aging." It brought to mind some of the descriptions by the press when Dick Clark returned to his New Year's Eve program more than a year after suffering a stroke. What should have been called a triumph for the stroke patient was instead turned into an endless comparison of what he was post-stroke and pre-stroke.

Anyone who suffers from a major illness that leaves changes - in appearance, in speech - will not be the same person. However, that person has the right to live a life of dignity - including what makes him or her comfortable, whether it's politics for Kennedy and show business for Clark.

One shining example is actor Kirk Douglas, whose 1996 stroke impaired his speech. Douglas lives his life to the fullest, still acting, as well as writing and campaigning to reverse injustice.

Journalists' perception of how to cover these situations has been evolving. But the AP description of Kennedy shows it still needs more changing.


Speaking of words, there are times, to quote Yul Brynner's King of Siam, when it is best to be silent.

National Public Radio commentators could have taken that opportunity last night, when an 8-minute video was shown at the convention about Kennedy. There were listeners on radio, too, but about halfway through, the NPR group started yakking. Sigh. I thought that kind of thing only happened on cable.

Take a lesson from legendary Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, a wordsmith who also knows when to let what's in front of him do the talking. Sometimes the silence of reporters and pundits is truly golden.

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