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Monday, January 20, 2014

The Thug Question





         Last summer Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch agreed to be interviewed and filmed by E:60 over four days of charitable activities in his hometown of Oakland.
         Producer Frank Saraceno and reporter Jeffri Chadiha undertook the assignment with some apprehension.  Lynch is famously reticent with media, so much so that the NFL reportedly fined him $50,000 for shirking his obligations.
         On the first day Saraceno tagged along with Lynch to his family picnic and shot video on his own.  He found Lynch relaxed and pleasant.
         But the real test was the sit-down interview the next day, in front of the producer, reporter and crew.  Initially, Lynch was “restless”, Saraceno recalled, and tended to answer questions with questions of his own.
         About 30 minutes in Lynch’s demeanor changed.
         “He opened up,” Saraceno recalled.  “Once he opened up he talked three, four and five minutes at a clip.  Not just meandering – very insightful. It wasn’t contrived -- everything felt original and genuine."
         At that point Saraceno and Chadiha were emboldened to steer the interview into a sensitive area.   Lynch has had several scrapes with the law, including a DUI and possession of a concealed firearm.  In a 2008 incident he was the driver of a car that struck a pedestrian and left the scene.
         Chadiha referenced Lynch's cousin Josh Johnson, who had told E:60 that "some people" perceived Lynch as a "thug".
         "How do you deal with that perception?"
         "Me bein' a thug?"
         "Yes."
         Lynch reflected, in silence (at 6:35), as the cameras rolled.  Saraceno held his breath.
         “He kind of went ‘hmmm’,” said Saraceno.
         Then Lynch responded...and responded.  His answer went on for a couple of minutes.  In its candor and self-awareness, the answer belied Lynch's nickname of "Beast Mode". 
         “I remember standing there and thinking ‘Wow, that’s going to make the piece’,” Saraceno recalled.  “Because it gave you not only a window into where he came from, but an answer to his critics.”
         In edit, Saraceno decided to let Lynch’s response run beyond a minute.  He did so, he said, as a matter of context and fairness.
         “We let it go on for a while,” Saraceno said. “He thinks a lot in that answer -- stops talking for gaps at a time.  Normally we would edit that up just for time -- I didn’t want to do that in this case.  I wanted that silence to resonate with people, let it sit there.  You could see he was troubled -- he was really thinking. 
         “As a producer sometimes silence is your best friend – I think what made this answer so special is what he didn’t say.  If we had edited it down for time it would have taken all the emotion and power away from it.”
         “We wanted to do him justice by letting him struggle – because I think people realize this isn’t a guy who’s polished. He’s not a guy who’s blow-dried who is going to give the same answer over and over.  This is a guy who is really thinking through what he wants to say and then it’s up to the viewers to decide whether they like him or not.
         “You don’t want to misrepresent anyone.  It’s not like you’re protecting people, but you want to be fair, and as a journalist that’s always the struggle.  Am I being fair to this person?  Is what we’re reporting accurate?  Is their answer fair and contextually right?
         “In this case I know the way we handled it was definitely the right way.”
Jeffri Chadiha (left) and Marshawn Lynch



Posted by Steve Marantz on January, 20, 2014