In May, 1995, Dr. Louis M. Katz was the primary physician treating HIV/AIDS patients in the Quad Cities. Robb asked if I wanted to accompany him to a regularly scheduled checkup, so I met him at Genesis Medical Center’s East campus in Davenport.
It was in this recording session that Robb said four words that have stayed in my mind all these years.
As you might imagine, video cameras and news crews are not seen very often in doctor’s offices, so nurses and staff were shocked, especially in an office treating an infectious disease such as AIDS, to see a patient come in with a guy following him carrying a big, bulky, 1980s-style TV news camera.
Robb had warned the office ahead of time, so they knew we were coming, but a nurse still froze when she came to take Robb back. Patient information is guarded pretty closely, so this not only bent protocol, it shattered protocol.
When Dr. Katz walked into the exam room, he saw me and had a very skeptical look on his face. You can see the photo above, taken from the video. Robb again said, “You can trust him.”
I had not even planned on shooting this piece. My intention was to hand the series over to a young, talented reporter, Michael Golden, and a videographer. Michael was ready for the assignment, and I had been working with him on the vision I had for the series — it would not be a regular TV news type of story each week. The reporter would step aside and not be seen or heard. The medium of TV would provide tell the story through the visuals, the natural sound, interviews, and music that set the tone. In this way, we would tell Robb’s story better than a reporter could.
I remember early on in our conversations, Michael asked, “You mean I won’t do a standup?” I said, “I’ll shoot and edit the first four pieces to set up the series, and show you what I’m thinking. Then you can take it.”
But as I began shooting the pieces that introduced Robb to the community, Michael was assigned to cover an important criminal trial that lasted for weeks, much longer than expected. By the time I went with Robb to the checkup with Dr. Katz, I was emotionally invested in the series and wanted to continue doing it as a “one-man band,” our name in TV news for someone who shoots, reports, and edits a story alone without a videographer.
Those four words, “You can trust him,” tipped me over the edge. From that moment, I knew I could not in good conscience hand this story to anyone else. I was in it for the long haul.
Michael loved the series, and watched the way I broke the regular format. He left the Quad Cities, as many talented reporters do, and went on to other reporting jobs, winning awards and pushing the envelope on creativity in TV news. The magazine Brill’s Content did a profile on Michael years later, and I received a phone call from him. He told me that he credited me with some of that creative spark. That call meant a lot to me. Michael has just authored a book called Unlock Congress.
Here is the story of Robb visiting Dr. Katz’ office in May, 1995, twenty years ago.
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