A News Media of Trekkies

trekkiesThe first celebrity I ever met was actor William Shatner.

It was back in the 1980s. I was probably twelve or thirteen at the time. Shatner was making an appearance at a car show in Denver that I went to with my family. I stood in a long line for nearly two hours to get a chance to talk to the pop culture icon who boldly went where no man had gone before aboard the starship Enterprise, and fearlessly clung to countless hoods of moving cars on TJ Hooker.

I spent most of my time in line trying to figure out what I was going to say to him. I didn’t want to blow the opportunity, after all. At that impressionable age, there are few people more important in the world than celebrities. And Shatner wasn’t just any celebrity. He was a bonafide action hero! So, I felt it was imperative for him to like me. At the very least, I was determined not say anything weird that would make him not like me.

I decided that I would first ask him for his autograph (a no-brainer), and while he was giving it to me, I would then ask him something about one of the Star Trek films. I don’t recall exactly what my planned question was, but it was something easy – something I probably already knew the answer to. Again, I just wanted the meeting to be a positive experience.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

I was immediately thrown off my game when Shatner denied my request for an autograph. I wasn’t expecting that. I had just assumed that that’s what celebrities did at public appearances: They signed autographs.

“No, no,” he artificially chuckled as he held up his hands and shook his head to fend me off.

Someone on his security detail quickly stepped forward and explained to me, “Mr. Shatner won’t be signing any autographs today.”

My consolation prize was the extension of Shatner’s hand to shake mine. This did not go smoothly because I was still holding the pen and sheet of paper I had brought with me for the autograph. He seemed annoyed as I tried to shuffle the items to my other hand, and before I knew it, one of his security guards was nudging me off the stage to make room for the next person in line. I tried to ask my question in parting, but it went unheard or most likely ignored.

Yes, William Shatner blew me off.

Feeling kind of embarrassed, I spent the next ten minutes or so watching more of the meet and greet from afar. I observed Shatner’s interactions with other fans, and I couldn’t help but conclude that he held a general contempt for just about everyone he met. At least that’s how it appeared.

He didn’t really make eye contact with any of them, and he clearly had no interest in what they had to say. He wouldn’t sign autographs or pose for pictures. Underneath a forced grin, he gave off a vibe that his fans were beneath him. Occasionally, he even appeared to be whispering snarky comments, about some of the fans, to the security guard standing next to him.

What struck me more than anything else, however, was that none of the people who walked up to meet him seemed to notice this. They were absolutely ecstatic just to be in the man’s presence, and were gushing over him and singing his praises. These people, for the most part, were Trekkies – the super-fans who didn’t just like Star Trek, but lived Star Trek. To them, Shatner didn’t merely portray Captain Kirk. He was Captain Kirk. And I think that’s why it was easy for Shatner not to respect them.

This relationship was later parodied hilariously by Shatner himself in one of Saturday Night Live’s all-time greatest skits, but I also see it on display quite often in the current day. It’s the same relationship that the news media has with President Obama.

When it comes to this president, the news media are Trekkies. They’re completely immersed in Obama’s presidency. They are invested in him, they are defensive of him, and they are his most loyal fans. Most in the media don’t see Barack Obama as just another president. To them, he’s an icon. He’s an brand.

That’s why we see all of those awkward press conference moments, like when reporter Jeff Zeleny asked the president what had “enchanted” him most about the presidency, or when the Chicago Tribune’s Christi Parsons fawningly told the president, “I’ve never seen you lose.”

It’s the reason why reporters go out of their way to set up the president to bash Republicans, like when CNN’s Dan Lothian presented Obama with a multiple choice question of whether the GOP was “uninformed”, “out of touch”, or “irresponsible”. That would have been the equivalent of a Trekkie asking Leonard Nimoy why people who think Star Wars is better than Star Trek are ‘so stupid’.

It’s the explanation for why most people in the news media are reluctant to ask the tough questions of our president. Just like a Trekkie wouldn’t ask Walter “Chekov” Koenig or Nichelle “Uhura” Nichols why they’ve never been seen in other television or film projects aside from Star Trek, the news media would rather not insult Obama. They want Obama to like them, just as I wanted William Shatner to like me years ago.

Rather than ask uncomfortable questions, the media would much rather pitch softball ones for which they already know what the canned answers will be. The result is that we know more about the president’s thoughts on gay marriage than we do about what happened in Benghazi. We know more about the president’s plans for achieving “tax fairness” than we do his plans for actually fixing the economy. We know how he feels about NBA player Jason Collins, but we haven’t a clue how he feels about Kermit Gosnell, the doctor accused of multiple murders during late-term abortions.

You know, it shouldn’t be a news story in itself when a reporter actually asks our president a tough question. But right now, it is.

And just like with what I observed with William Shatner many years ago, I don’t believe President Obama respects the media. It doesn’t matter that they are largely responsible for his success and popularity. It doesn’t matter that they are incredibly loyal to him. Obama has to recognize that his fans in the media view him not as how he really is, but as how they want him to be. He’s not a man to them. He’s a super-hero! And how can anyone respect relative strangers who pledge to them their unconditional allegiance?

I had to laugh as I watched clips of journalists’ reactions to President Obama at the recent White House Correspondents Dinner. It reminded me of going to a Star Trek film in a movie theater on opening night. Everyone’s laughing hysterically and slapping their knees at even the most mundane, inside jokes. It’s uncomfortable.

Now, I hope Star Trek fans out there don’t think my intent is to bash them with this column. It’s not. I view the Trekkie culture as a fun, harmless phenomenon and I’m glad people have a good time with it.

But our news media culture should not be this way. The job of reporters if far too important to our society.

If William Shatner were on trial for a crime, how fair would it be to stock the jury with Trekkies? I think everyone would agree that it would be totally unacceptable because of how important impartiality is in our justice system.

So how, then, can there not be a problem when it comes to who’s covering the President of the United States, and conveying that information to the American public?

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration, and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. His first novel, entitled "From a Dead Sleep", is now on sale! He lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
Author website: http://www.johndalybooks.com/
  • George Penwell

    Maybe many in the media are genuinely enamored with Obama but I think as time wears on that much of the loyalty is out of fear of his potential reprisal against any that oppose him, and being black listed from White House press meetings and such. Just as I believe that much of the loyalty within his own party is out of fear. Obama has no problem using SS and Gestapo tactics against his opposition and he doesn’t like it that anyone could possibly not align themselves with his rehtoric or agenda.

  • beckncall

    Met Shatner myself in same manner as author of this piece. Believe you me he’s a jerk. Just as the author says he has NO interests in people fans or not. He is self absorbed, petty, little in character and height as well. He is a man that has an ego of monumental proportion with kindness and compassion amounting to 0.
    But as Captian Kirk he was the best. As Denny Crane he was awesome, as William Shatner human being on planet earth not so much.

  • Adrien Nash

    Are you talking about the three-monkeys media? How dare you sir! You have no right to disparage the Captain Crunch crowd.

  • Wheels55

    My sister is a flight attendant and works on smaller commuter planes that do not have a first class section. Shatner gets on and demands first class treatment (a special place to hang his coat and first class meals). When told that isn’t available on that flight, he got very nasty. The flight may not have had first class, but Shartner showed he has no class.

    • John Daly

      Honestly, until I wrote this column, I hadn’t heard that Shatner is somewhat famous for this kind of thing. A couple of my friends told me stories the other day as well. Crazy.

      • fraudcop

        I worked several science fiction conventions in Colorado where numerous Star Trek personalities appeared over several years. Most were very gracious and appreciative of their fans and did sign autographs. The late Majel Barrett, wife of Gene Roddenberry was extraordinary in the attentiveness to her fans, and people wanting to talk about her famous husband. Signing autographs until there were no more requests. Mr. Shatner is willing to provide his autograph, providing you pay the proper fee. Fans are kept at arms length, or better. No questions, no photographs, just move along.

  • Wheels55

    I have heard many stories of the Shatner experience – much like this one. He is so full of himself, he has no room for anyone else. Someone once told him he is a fantastic actor and is above everyone else, and he believed it.
    Someone once told Obama he is a fantastic politician (another kind of actor) and that he is better than everyone else.
    The difference is, I wouldn’t ask Obama for his autograph.

    • John Daly

      Good call.

      I SO wish I would have thought to make that comparison in my column: A poor actor and a poor president, but both still have fans slobbering all over them and telling them they’re great.

      • http://twitter.com/gboesky Gayle Boesky

        You’ll have your chance to slobber during the next Republican administration. The media on the right, and on the left are all guilty of slobbering and spinning.

  • artlouis

    Nice piece.

    I remember reading an account of the time Shatner visited a newsroom, I think for a TV interview. Before he agreed to come, he demanded that while he was in the building, the halls through which he walked would be kept clear of all people, employees or otherwise.

    He would have been the perfect choice to play Stalin in a biopic, although maybe nowadays Obama would get the part.

    • John Daly

      Thanks.

      Yeah, Shatner’s performance that day was a stark contrast to that of James “Scotty” Doohan, who was also there. Doohan signed autographs, posed for pictures, engaged everyone, and stayed on stage for an hour or two after Shatner had already left. He was a class act.