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The Diary of Gideon

Observer Scene | Monday, October 11, 2004

Sporting his signature wire-rimmed glasses and five o’clock shadow, MTV News correspondent Gideon Yago spoke Sunday night at Washington Hall, and never once talked about Courtney Love in court, Britney Spears’ marriages or the status of the new U2 album.Yago surpassed the expected banter of an MTV personality and gave an informed and interesting talk about his experiences and evolution as a journalist for a youth-oriented network. His experiences on the 2000 campaign trail, in New York on 9/11 and in the pre-war and current-day Middle East gave him perspectives on the media and the realm of global events that belies the fact he is only 26 years old. Answering the question that was on the lips of every unemployed college student, Yago informed the crowd he got his job at MTV because he mistakenly thought he was applying to be on a game show. He actually applied for an experiment that MTV was running for the 2000 campaign in which they would choose six college students to go around the country and make tapes about the experiences of various people around the nation. He submitted a tape documenting a young Klan member going to his first rally in New York, which was actually the first rally that the city had allowed for years, and revealed both how Yago and the city itself reacted to the gathering. MTV chose his submission, and he followed the John McCain and George Bush groups on the campaign trail during the republican primaries. While MTV’s overall credibility on political issues was lowered by anti-intellectual shows such as Jackass, opportunities for the ambitious new VJ materialized when the channel’s chief demographic began displaying a greater salience of global issues.”MTV was changing because [America’s youth] was changing in response to 9/11,” Yago said.Knowing the campaign season was only temporary, Yago believed he was going to be fired after one of MTV’s major award shows. Then the unexpected happened in New York City. Yago was evacuated from a subway after the Sept. 11 attacks, and he had luckily brought a small, digital camcorder in his backpack with which he captured much of the action. In the wake of the attacks, Yago kept busy with various news shows, segments known as “What’s Going On?” which defined various terms such as “jihad” that related to the attacks and captured the reaction of the Muslim community to the events. One of the main thrusts of Yago’s talk was the difference between the pre- and post-Sept. 11 attitudes of the media and especially among MTV viewers. According to polls taken by the network, younger viewers were especially concerned with global issues following the attacks – a marked difference from the domestic issues that normally dominated their concerns. This was a unique change in the attitudes of America’s youth, and it offered a unique potential for dialogue and different paradigms of thought. Sept. 11 forced Americans to assume a more global perspective, but the narrower and more nativistic pre-Sept. 11 attitude is slowly creeping back, particularly in the upcoming election. Very much aware of his own responsibility, Yago set out to address a population of young people who had been, in his opinion, largely ignored by the mainstream media outlets.”I tried to provide context in mass media for a youth who were disinterested or unconcerned with current events,” Yago said.The trip Yago took to Kuwait City was originally supposed to center on three shows, which were variations of MTV’s popular programs. One show was supposed to center on Kuwaiti youth going to the opening of a Virgin Megaspore, the other was supposed to be like the show “Cribs” in a military barracks and the last was supposed to be the reaction of American GIs to the new 50 Cent album. The threat of war in the Middle East changed the thrust of the shows, and they developed into more serious journalistic pieces.Following his trip to Kuwait, Yago pressed his producers to allow him to go to Iraq to get perspective on the nation following the onset of the American war. He was eventually allowed to go, and he came back with unique experiences and perspectives. He initially talked about the difficulties that Westerners face getting through airport security in the Middle East and the eerie feeling of having to drive through vast desert areas at 120 mph because of the fear of looters.Yago showed clips from “The Diary of Gideon in Iraq” that chronicled his trip. He shot 55 hours of footage that was eventually edited to a 22-minute segment. The show focused on young Iraqis and their opinions about Americans after the invasion. Most of them had been sympathetic toward America in the beginning, but after the troops allowed chaos and lawlessness to reign in the land, they began to lose faith. Yago expressed a desire to return to the area for their elections in January. A question and answer session ended the talk with Yago answering queries. He told the crowd that he had no journalistic experience prior to MTV, save writing for the skater magazine “666” in high school. He also said that another area he wished to visit was Sudan, and that he was a registered Republican in 2000 and an Independent now. Someone also asked if MTV tells him what to wear – and the answer was no.A reception followed the talks for anyone who wanted to ask the news anchor any questions in a more intimate setting. With the impending election only weeks away, Yago urged students to look beyond the “retail politic-ing” of the candidates and their domesticated outlook on world affairs. “Be willing to assess things from the other side, any side, all sides,” Yago said. Seeing others’ point of view is the key for positive change in the right direction.”