Mike Max has become a fixture at our home as we have watched, riveted actually, to his live reporting for WCOO television on the civil unrest that has been taking place in Minneapolis since the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day.
I won’t lie to you.
My first review of his initial reports from I35W I was not impressed.
In fact, I was mortified.
As protesters began to assemble a tent on the freeway Max seemed utterly befuddled by what it could be.
That it was a tent appeared to be obvious to me.
But, in his effort to understand what it was all about he offered up no guile or expert opinion.
After reporting that a UPS truck had been robbed of its packages and a fire was raging on the freeway, he mused that everything was peaceful and that there wasn’t any “looting” taking place.
What has become somewhat of a tagline of his was this: “I have no idea.”
As he continued to report, trying to make sense of it all, one could literally see a transformation.
Not from a guy who didn’t know what was going on to a guy who was an expert with all the answers.
But from a guy who genuinely wanted to understand what was going on, why it was happening and, more importantly, the people who were involved with it all.
Mike Max reported. And has kept on reporting.
As my son, Owen, exclaimed, “This guy is reporting his heart out!”
And he has, and he is.
In doing the important work of journalism he is doing he isn’t trying to educate us by espousing his personal beliefs, ideology, or bias.
He is taking a side.
The human side.
We have seen a man who most know as a sports reporter evolve into a reporter who is bringing us what I think we all need to know: Who are the people in the streets, why are they in the streets, what are they thinking, what do they believe and what do they want to happen.
He’s letting them tell their story.
He’s not telling us their story.
He’s not telling his story.
He’s letting them be the story.
Watching Max report has been a combination of fascination, joy and now, as we have grown fond of him as a person, we have grown appreciative of his earnest and candid desire to let us know who these people are by letting these people tell us who they are.
By our count he has been tear gassed three times.
Last night he announced, “Here we go again….it’s in my eyes.” as he received another dose of tear gas.
The night before, attempting to reposition himself and his cameraman he explained that “We will have to go this way because it’s the only way to get over there.” as he began to grunt and groan his body over the cement obstacle.
Seconds later, as the cameraman panned to an opening between barricades a few feet away, Max chuckled and said, “Or, I guess we can just walk through there.”
He has been attacked by a guy with a cane. Interviewed two young women from the University of Minnesota and immediately knew the small town where one came from, and the town where her Dad had gone to high school.
He simply stopped people and asked them questions. Directions. He also asked them what they thought was going on.
He thought out loud as he tried to make sense of it all.
Yet, last night, Mike Max showed, without equivocation, what America needs from its journalists now, more than ever.
After running into a garage filled with dumpsters to get out of the way of rubber bullets and tear gas, Max emerged to cover the resulting arrests of protesters who had violated a citywide curfew.
It was clear that he was enamored with the process that led up to the law enforcement action that ultimately cornered around 150 protesters who, realizing that they were no longer in a position to run, accepted the fate they knew was coming: Being arrested.
Max didn’t cry out that the protesters were peaceful and why were they being arrested.
He didn’t complain that he and his cameraman were being teargassed along with protesters because he was a member of the media.
When a State Trooper asked him to move, he simply moved. He didn’t complain. Didn’t protest. There was no “Do you know who I am?” moment from Mike Max.
Mike Max wanted to know what was going on. Why it was. What was happening. What would happen next.
And, then, he did something that this morning brought tears to my eyes.
I urge you to watch this story: https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2020/05/31/at-least-2-groups-of-protesters-remain-in-downtown-minneapolis/
In it you will understand, more than anything any other reporter has brought to us this week, who the protesters were that wanted to be .heard.
You will see shared humanity between protesters and law enforcement and a reminder that we are all, in the end, the same human beings.
I have great respect for the men and women in journalism I know are committed to being the best journalists they can be. There are many of them.
There are also far too many today who think they are the story. And, that their story should be on equal footing as those they are supposed to be covering.
We read, see, and hear their perspective and opinion.
The story, far too often, becomes a side note to their analysis and commentary.
For three nights we have seen Mike Max share with us a form of journalism that has been filled with facts, with information, with insight, with conjecture tempered with a healthy dose of “I don’t know” added to inform the viewer that he doesn’t know any more than we know.
But then he sets out to find out.
He asks questions. He talks to people. He seeks out anybody who will talk to him. He wonders aloud.
And then, he does what America needs now, more than ever from our journalists.