In Defense of ‘Water Freezes’ Reporter Muriel Bailey

By Mark Joyella 

It’s really too bad that on any typical day, local TV news producers, managers, and assignment editors stand just about zero chance of having any of their missteps, poor decisions or clumsy sentences ending up on display for all eternity in the form of a YouTube video. But reporters? Ask Muriel Bailey.

6505603_GBailey, a reporter at Huntsville NBC affiliate WAFF, got the ooh-look-at-the-moron-TV-reporter treatment Thursday for a clip of her showing viewers that water she’d placed outside had frozen in Alabama’s unseasonably cold weather.

Over at Mediaite, the headline screamed “Alabama TV Reporter Astonished to Learn Water Freezes in Cold Weather.” I think anyone would be interested to see a television reporter actually express astonishment at water freezing in the cold. But of course, that’s not what she does, and at no time does she express anything close to astonishment. But screw the facts–we’ve got a clip to push. So the story drips with sarcasm, including this:

Muriel Bailey is so astonished by the concept of water freezing — outdoors! Without a fridge! Like witchcraft! — that she had to perform an experiment to make sure she was seeing things correctly.

Ask commenters here or on TVNewser, and they’ll tell you I’m no stranger to sarcastic copy. But damn, give Muriel Bailey a break. She never expressed even mild surprise that the water had frozen, and only did what reporters are repeatedly ordered to do–find a visual to show something instead of merely say it–even if it’s obvious and hardly in need of a visual.

So Bailey goes through the motions, playing her part perfectly in the nothing-like-real-life world of television news, shows off the water to prove that yep, it’s-that-cold-out-here-folks, and then she quickly moved on, reminding viewers to check on their pets and make sure kids are dressed for the freezing temperatures before sending them to the bus stop.

I’ve never spoken to Bailey, so I can’t say if the cup of water was her idea or not, but I have worked in television newsrooms, and producers often suggest trying to freeze things in the cold, and cook things on city streets in the heat. They love telling reporters to take rulers out to measure floodwater and snow, and to carry over-sized thermometers to show that, yes, the temperature really is hot/cold/whatever. In fact, why not sit in the car from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and show us how the thermometer rises–and you sweat!

From market to market, the same silly stunts, and in every case, it’s left to the reporter to try and pull it off without looking like an idiot.

And I give Bailey credit. She showed that water had frozen while she’d been out reporting for the morning show, and then seamlessly connected it to some standard weather warnings–because when it comes right down to it, assigning a reporter to tell viewers it’s cold outside is pretty ridiculous in the first place, cup of water or not.

Here’s a reporter in Philadelphia just this morning with a large market take on the cup of water: try and freeze water in the station garage!

Over the years, I’ve dressed up in firefighters’ bunker gear (to show you it’s heavy), waded into floodwaters (to show you it’s deep and urge you not to ever wade into floodwater, because it’s dangerous), stood inside a Hurricane Hunter aircraft while flying through a storm’s eyewall (to show you it’s bumpy up there), and eaten fire at Coney Island (okay, that one I’m actually proud of).

I’ve done all the lame local news cliche stuff, and I’m telling you, lay off Muriel Bailey.