Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In the Name of Journalism

The things television feature reporters do to get the story.

Several years ago we produced a profile of Bob Pratt, former primate keeper at the Hogle Zoo. A photographer and myself followed Pratt to the basement of the great ape house where he had his office and access to his charges.

We asked if we could videotape the chimpanzees, Happy, Chip and Tammy. He said we could...if the chimpanzees agreed. If they didn't agree, they might fling feces at us. That would be a decisive "no comment" from the primate world.

Pratt explained he would take us and, one at a time, lead us down the short path to the chimp cages.

I went first. As we walked (arm in arm, to demonstrate that I was a friendly reporter), Pratt noticed Happy's large, long arms were draped to the floor near something small and dark.

"Don't do it. Don't do it, " Bob ordered. "Put it down."

Outwardly, I displayed brash courage. Inwardly, I braced for impact.

Thankfully, the primate's threat was only that. Pratt took my hand and touched it to Happy's finger. The chimp sniffed his finger and I was in. The scent of a feature reporter agreed with him.

All in the name of journalism.

I did appreciate the chimpanzees' candor. Some human interview subjects don't give us the courtesy of telling us how they really feel about us. At least this animal was honest.

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