Four days after the attack, my friend is ready to leave the hospital. We enter the news building in the morning for our interview, and a nice lady greets us, taking us to a preparation room. “Here you are,” she says handing us some papers. “These are the questions she will ask you.” After thirty-two minutes waiting, we meet the hostess of the segment where our special report will air tonight. She walks up to us, looks up and down each of us and smiles like a spider looking at its prey. “It’s so good to meet you,” she says. “Have you taken a look?” she asks pointing to the paper with the questions.
My friend frowns. He doesn’t like this sort of thing. I, on the other hand, expected it. There is an ancient oriental saying: “Never trust a reporter.” I follow it by heart. “Would you mind giving us a second? He’s exhausted,” my roommate says. We take him behind the set, where they can’t hear us. “Look,” she starts. “I know this is hardly ideal, but it will help us all. So suck it up and—” He interrupts her, “But this-this. Ha-have you people gone crazy? What are we, those plastic people that go on tv and complain about everything? I don’t like plastic, you know, it causes cancer…”
“Please,” I say. “Don’t do this for yourself. Do it for the people like you, for your parents… for me.” He looks down to the ground. I take his hand. I can feel my roommate staring at my neck. “Ok…” he concedes, slightly blushing. “Great. Then let’s go, there’s no time to waste,” she says.
We review the questions and “suggested” answers, pretty standard stuff. Next we step into the makeup room. The bruises in my face are highlighted. My arab friend has eye bags and signs of exhaustion painted on his face… You know, to make it more real. After the hostess is plastered with makeup, we are ready to begin the interview. “Good morning, everyone,” the hostess says, reading from the teleprompter. “Those watching right now will remember the heinous crime that happened only a few days ago, when a young man and woman were beaten and insulted by white, disgusting, white supremacist bigots.” So much for this network’s “political neutrality.” “Well, these two non-white brave young people have come today to speak up. Please, give them a warm applause.”
The “applause” sign lights on. The audience automatically claps and cheers. I blush. “So tell me,” she continues once the audience settles down, “what happened?” “Well,” I start, “as millions have already seen from the video of the attack, they came at us without provocation, and when I tried to stand up to them, they—” I lower my voice until I’m mute. “Come on,” she says gently, “you can tell us. This is a safe space.” “Well, they… they punched me and beat my friend…” The “outrage” sign lights on. The audience automatically becomes outraged.
“Those white males punched a girl and beat a defenseless boy for, what exactly?” she asks. “I don’t…” I say shaking my head. “I have no idea what could possibly be going on inside their minds at that moment. Or anyone who acts like them, honestly. It just doesn’t make sense to me how some people can think they are better than others judging by the color of their skin, or that women are somehow inferior than men. I simply don’t understand.”
The “applause” sign lights on and the audience claps. “Thank you so much for joining us, truly,” says the hostess. “Now, how are you feeling?” she asks, turning to my friend. “Well…” he starts shyly, not making eye contact with her. “I guess I’m… I’m still recovering.” “I heard you received plenty of supportive messages and even donations, is that correct?” “Yes,” he says. “I’m genuinely amazed by people in this country. They either beat you to death or give you money.” An “applause” sign lights up. The joke was unscripted, though, and the hostess’ right eye twitches. She still smiles, though. “Seriously though, I’m very grateful.” The audience once again bursts in applause after the “applause” sign lights on.
“Hey,” says the hostess. “We’ve put together a short slideshow. Would you mind if we show it to the audience?” “Sure, go ahead,” he agrees, oblivious to what the slideshow is about. The lights dim. A screen behind us lightens up and begins showing images of him as a baby with his parents. “He was just a regular child,” says dramatically a man’s voice. Then as he grows older, “He led an honest life.” The audience goes “Aww,” looking at the innocent child.
I can see my friend freaking out, completely embarrassed that his childhood pictures are being shown on national television. Good thing we’re dark and nobody sees us. I grab his hand and breathe deeply. He follows my lead and calms down. Then suddenly, out of the blue, frames of the beating appear with spatters of blood added for dramatic purposes. “And now this poor boy has been assaulted,” says the narrator. Then pictures of him in the hospital bed, with tubes, as loud and dramatic music plays. “He was on the verge of death!” The audience is outraged. The music’s crescendo ends and with it the slideshow.
“So tell us,” says the hostess, “is there something else any of you would like to say before we wrap up?” “Yes,” I say. “We would like people who have suffered discrimination in their lives to tweet about it accompanied by #tol. We need to share our experiences and help each other fight bullies.”
The audience cheers and claps. Then the hostess says, “Stay tuned for more news at our next show, ‘state of the states.’” The camera finally turns off, and the hostess’s face changes from a gentle smile into a tired, angry expression. Two frightened boys rush in with food and water. She waves them off like flies. She turns to look at the audience. “Good audience. Good,” she says like she was speaking to her dog. “There’s treats for all of you at the table, come, come.” Then she picks up a scotch bottle and a plastic cup and goes into a room alone.
My friend and I are led to a waiting room. “She wants to say something to you, and she… asked if you could please wait a sec here.” Yeah, I’m sure she “asked.” Half an hour later she comes out of the room, reeking of booze. We take pictures which she posts to her social media, where you can’t smell alcohol. “You can leave now,” she says to us without looking up from her phone, merely waving us off with her hand.