Human interest story


New York Times

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My piece last week about Ted Williams, the man with the golden voice, must have hit a nerve because I have received some interesting comments. Many people think he is being exploited.

In two weeks Ted Williams has gone from homeless to famous to rehab. His story has touched a nation and is a story of hope for so many struggling in this economy. Everyone pulls for the underdog and wants to see the average Joe down on his luck overcome all odds to eventually find fame and fortune.

Ted Williams’s story certainly fits that formula. He was living on the streets with only a makeshift tent, a few blankets, and cardboard preventing him from freezing to death. However, once he was plucked from obscurity we find he has a dark and troubling past. One filled with alcohol, drugs, and many arrests. His family and others he has hurt and taken advantage of in the past are now wondering if he deserves all this attention. He even admitted to Dr. Phil, after viewing a montage video of all the frenzy surrounding him, he doesn’t feel worthy of what has happened. In tears he said to Dr. Phil, “It’s like, why me? Lord, I didn’t do anything super deserving of it.”

Several have said to me they are uncomfortable that Dr. Phil has entered the picture and he is exploiting the situation. Before we analyze the problem let us look at the definition of exploit. It is a verb meaning:

  1. to take advantage of somebody or
  2.  to use something for benefit.

The first definition is further explained as to take selfish or unfair advantage of a person or situation, usually for personal gain. The second definition adds, “To use or develop something in order to gain a benefit.”

No doubt Dr. Phil will gain ratings and advertisers and thus continue his show if he has programs that draw an audience. To do that he must be current and have guests, themes, and topics the viewing public is interested in—something that is in the news or news worthy.

 In a similar vein, this goes back to my college days and Journalism 101 discussions of what is news. News is information about recent developments or current events. News is what sells newspapers and today drives the 24 hour news networks. The Ted Williams story began as a simple human interest story that went viral and became news. It is what everyone is talking about.

So, yes, Dr. Phil will receive personal gain and benefit from presenting programs about current topics. In addition, the other offers Ted Williams has received will and have gained recognition for helping a homeless man. Good PR never hurt anyone. But, were these offers selfishly motivated? We should also ask the question, “Will Ted Williams benefit from appearing on Dr. Phil’s show and signing contracts with Kraft Mac and Cheese, the Cleveland Cavaliers, etc.?”  Most definitely, “Yes!”

The fact Ted Williams is now in rehab and not sitting on the street corner should be proof enough. After reading transcripts of some of the shows, I see that Dr. Phil warns Ted he knows of his dark past and wants it to come out now so he can help him and give him an opportunity to explain and defend it. Dr. Phil warns Ted it will all come out eventually and he is giving him an opportunity to say, “…that was wrong and I will do it differently this time.”

During his radio DJ days Williams became involved with booze, women, and drugs and didn’t manage his fame well. Dr. Phil points out that Ted has to make this second chance stick because there won’t be a third chance. Ted responds that if he lets his family down one more time then he won’t expect them to ever give him another chance. “I blow this and I die.”

Ironically, I ended my last blog about Ted Williams with those very words, “I hope he doesn’t blow it.” He has a long road ahead of him and rehab won’t be easy. He will have a lot of temptations in his new life and he apparently didn’t handle temptations well in the past. Admittedly, Ted Williams has not been a virtuous and model citizen but everyone deserves a second chance. He now sees what will happen if he does not follow through with his rehab and conquer his demons.

Whether or not he is being exploited can be debated. He will certainly have those hanging onto him who are there for their piece of fame and will exploit him whenever possible. Once again, I will close by saying, “I sure hope he doesn’t blow it.” By his own admission, the stakes are even higher this time around.