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Since this is a day when we are mourning the loss of the consummate story teller Maya Angelou, I will start by telling you a story. You might remember that before I came to NPR, I worked at ABC News, for the most part for the late night program Nightline, anchored by Ted Koppel. And I was thinking about a story he sent me to cover about a high ranking African-American police officer from Miami who got into an altercation with a white cop from Orlando. This was after the Orlando officer pulled the Miami officer over, who was on his way to his vacation house. And when I say altercation, I mean fists were thrown and words were exchanged that did not include "We shall overcome." The whole thing was captured on the Orlando officer's dashboard camera.
Because the traffic stop seemed kind of profile-y, and because there was an arrest, and because the Miami officer was a big shot, the matter clearly was headed to somebody's courtroom. So neither of the principals — the black cop or the white cop — would talk to me. But each side had credible representatives who would. So I sat down with each separately, and we went over the dashboard video beginning to end to try to understand what led to such an ugly confrontation between two grown men in the same line of work.
Can I just tell you? It probably won't shock you to know that often what happens after you stop rolling is just as interesting as whatever comes before. I don't think I am breaking anybody's confidence to tell you that, after all the sound bites were said, and the cables were rolled up, and the cameras put away, both men at some point took me aside to ask in voices of genuine wonderment, "Can you tell me why this happened? Why did that guy react that way?"
So in all honesty, that's kind of where I got the idea for Tell Me More. What happened to me on that assignment happened more times than I can recount. Now it is true that some people just want their 15 minutes of fame. And it is true that some people just want votes and don't much care what they have to say to get them. And it's true that some people just don't have much use for anybody who is different. But in my experience, an awful lot of people really do want to know: why did that just happen, why did that guy react that way, what is this all about? Or they just want to tell someone why they feel or believe or react as they do. They want to be seen. They want to be heard.
This feels especially urgent in a time when many people feel invisible, or they feel that everything they care about is changing, things like who their neighbors are, or what language they speak, or who gets to marry whom. Or they feel that things aren't changing fast enough and they wonder why. And it's always been interesting to me how often people who live in the same town or in the same city don't really talk to each other until something happens — a Jena 6, a Trayvon Martin — and everyone starts talking at once.
So I thought it would good to have a place where people could talk about these issues — calmly, usually; with civility, always — but on the regular, and not just when something bad happens. Like when there is credible, new knowledge to share about issues that people have just had assumptions about, when there are real facts to bring insight to real issues, when new leaders emerge from places we haven't seen before, when something changes in the way people are thinking about an issue, or just when there's something fun that you might not have heard about because it involves people you don't already know. And yeah, sometimes when something bad happens, because that is part of life too.
That's why we decided to call this program Tell Me More. It's for people who want to know more about the way we live now.
So by now you might have heard the news that NPR has decided to cease production of this program after Aug. 1. Do I love this idea? No I do not. But when the people who outrank you make a decision you have two choices: salute or leave. I prefer to stay, and I hope many of the people on the Tell Me More team will also stay, so we can try to continue what we have started here, albeit on different platforms, as they say. Telling you more about the way we really live now. There will be more to say on that in due course, but for now, you will find us here, telling you more.
You can also now follow me on Twitter @MichelMcQMartin.