There is a lot of talk these days about 'fake news', impartial journalism (or the lack thereof), partisan rancor, and divisive communications. There is a crisis in journalism, that's a fact both sides of the aisle can agree on. "Where is Walter Cronkite?" is a lament we hear again and again. People flock to their news source of choice, confirmation bias runs amok, and the ever present echo chamber has become the playbook that we seem to live by.
Whatever happened to the TRUE voice of reason, the voice we can ALL trust, the person with the unbiased news reporting that we can believe in? Well as it turns out he's been here in Flint all along.
The man that bridges all of those chasms, the man we know we can get the real deal from, the man with the facts, the details, and the news we need. His name is all you need to know to understand you're about to get the straight skinny—BILL HARRIS.
When your name is associated with a brand, that's a big deal. When your name is associated with a VALUE...well that's the Mt. Everest of personal achievement. Bill Harris is emblematic of that moniker. If you are like me, you grew up with him. Maybe you just saw him recently. Either way when you saw him you kept watching.
Since his arrival in 1977, he's been the guy we turn to for stability in reporting, ethical and unbiased journalism, and a calm demeanor and stable presence that lets us all know, in the end, it's going to be ok. That’s a particularly salient point in our current environment, but it was no less utilitarian and emotionally satisfying in 1977.
Arriving from Boston with no family or friends locally, he took a flyer on the city that his name will be forever associated with—Flint. I was a sixth grader at Washington Elementary when he turned up on my TV screen doing the noon news. My mom would come home from work and meet me at the house for lunch (Chef Boy Ardee ravioli or beefaroni), and together we'd watch the WJRT-TV 12 noon news. There was this new guy. My mom liked him. He was telling us about this new movie that he thought would be a big hit in the summer, a flick called "Star Wars". I still remember that like it was yesterday. I can't explain why. I never forgot it. I also never forgot Bill.
His personae would come to be the face of the man who would see us through the peak of General Motors employment in Flint in 1978, his second year in town. He'd let us know about the Shah of Iran being deposed, a new energy crisis, jobs lost, a dying downtown and some new plans for resurrection that involved the Hyatt Regency, Windmill Place, and the Water Street Pavillion.
He was one of the first to tell us about a new idea called Autoworld (he was a big fan), and then first to report when it came crashing down. He let us know when Presidents showed up in town, when sports teams and players prevailed. He kept us up to speed in on the exploits of Jimmy Abbott, Glen Rice, The McGee Twins -Pamela and Paula, Kenny Morrow and USA Hockey Miracle on Ice, Mark Ingram Jr. and the Heisman.
He told us about bands coming to town at the Capitol and Atwood Stadium, like Journey, Pat Benatar, Ready For the World, The Go Go's, AC/DC, and Grand Funk Railroad's Mark Farner. He reported the story when Phil Donahue showed up at Whiting Auditorium, and Rachel Maddow did her show here. He kept us up to speed when President's Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Obama, were in town, when candidates Trump and Clinton debated, and when water became an issue, he was front and center.
Through new GM plants going up and old ones coming down, an incredibly resurgent and vibrant downtown, crime and punishment, education and reform, the good, the bad, the ugly…and the beautiful. He was there for all of it. For 42 years, his was the voice we knew. Perhaps more importantly, it was the voice that knew US.
We're lucky if we have someone in our lives who we can count on. Our entire community has been blessed beyond measure to have had such a person in a position that we can ALL access. We can invite him in to our homes for a chat. We all let our guards down to do something that is in short supply these days: we listened.
Because of that, we learned, we grew, and we understood. This understanding led to a collective cohesiveness that is terrifically hard to quantify in typical terms. It is better understood on a spiritual plane. This is the community of the mind. The shared values that give a city not just its identify, and its heart. Rather, it's the energy that provides a community with its soul. That's a new trick. It's rare, and it's precious. It's Bill.
To say that having him on my show is an honor is to understate the fact by magnitudes of order. It's called “Fish and The Flint Chronicles”, and it's more than magnificent to have one of the greatest chroniclers of Flint in my guest chair. And as a result of this experience, I can add kind, gracious and fun to his list of superlatives.
Oh, and as for Walter Cronkite...Bill interviewed him once as a cub reporter, naked save for a towel (Walter not Bill), and you can hear all about it on this very special episode of Fish and the Flint Chronicles. It’s a dandy!
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