10 Plus 1: Off Camera With Mario de Carvalho

(CBS)
The view behind the camera is often as fascinating as what's transpiring in front of it. So here's a chance to hear from a cameraman who's seen quite a bit during his tenure at CBS News. Read on to find out what Mario de Carvalho has to say about what it's like to work in a combat zone, what kind of coverage he'd like to see more of at CBS News and why he thinks those working behind the scenes in television news often don't get the recognition they deserve.

What do you do at CBS News?
I am a cameraman.
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
I believe that we should cover more foreign news. There are foreign situations that deeply affect the U.S. and we just pay very little attention to them.

The war on drugs goes on in South America with significant U.S. military involvement. In my opinion, we should keep the American people informed of it. Illicit drugs are one of the most serious problems affecting our society and, although we are not doing so well on that war front, we are still making a valiant effort down there.

Sudan is another example. What a sad story that is. It is another Rwanda, Ethiopia, etc. type of situation -- a modern day holocaust -- and I do not believe that we, as a country, are very aware of what's going on. It is our duty to inform.

I understand our time limitations on the "Evening News," but is there another way to do it?

In our country, I would like to see more stories about the hardship military families go through when their spouses are deployed for a long, long time ( yes, one year is a very long time…).

We do cover, as we should, the emotional part of the equation. What about the soldiers who become homeless within two months of returning? What about bankruptcies, families thrown into disarray because the sole bread winner is gone, making very little money? Re-enlistment is low, soldiers do not want to go through those types of situations. If we, as journalists, call attention to it, maybe -- and that's a big maybe -- we can help convince the government to take a look at it and, in an ideal world … solve it! Nothing wrong in keeping hope alive!!!

Fourteen months ago, I re-enlisted (at the "ripe" age of 55.) I joined the Georgia State Defense Forces, a branch of the Georgia National Guard, so I can do something constructive, put my time and my "not so in shape" body where my beliefs are. I just want to do something else for this great country of ours.
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
While covering the Iraq war (Jim Axelrod, Jeff Thorp Willet and I were embedded with a combat unit,) our night scope mysteriously disappeared the night before the war started. Jeff and I had to "invent" a way to capture video at night. We used one of the Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) that CBS had supplied to us, attached a small video camera to it with tie-wraps, duct tape and cardboard and went to war. We were doing really well and very proud of our "invention" until we realized that the pair of NVGs we were using were Axelrod's!!! Jim sat in the back of our Hummer, watching tracers and explosions. Jeff and I were jumping off the Hummer, screaming and yelling, then coming back to the Hummer, yelling "That was close!" "Did you see that?" "Were those Iraqi soldiers?" "Man, what a firefight!" and HE could not see a thing!!! I had his NVGs!!! Axelrod could only hear the chaos! And anytime he tried to ask us, he was a polite as you can imagine: "Guys, can you please tell me what happened back there?" "How close did it get?" We felt really bad, but we all laughed about it when we finally got to the Baghdad Airport… . Sorry Ax-man, we really do like you … and we think you are the best!!!
Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
Of course I have been assigned to stories that I objected to. We have all been there and if someone tells you the opposite … they're lying!!!! You deal with it by doing your best, as always. My part of the story is taking the pictures, trying to tell the story with images. My colleagues and I always do it to the best of our abilities. After the fact --and only after the fact -- I can (and most of the time, I do) voice my opinion in no uncertain terms.

Many years ago, when a story I shot aired, it made me sick to my stomach … after risking our lives to cover some pretty violent riots in the aftermath of a hurricane and getting some pretty good exclusive pictures (if I can say so myself) those pictures were taken out of the "final product" because, according to the producer, they could hurt the feelings of the population, the pictures were too one sided, they only showed one section of the population looting. Well … that is what happened! I know I did my job correctly, I documented what was going on -- no more, no less! That fact cannot be taken away from me. I strongly object to that kind of situation.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
I always wanted to be a surgeon, but it did not go that way … I flunked. I was drafted by the military and that was the end of that dream.

I joined CBS right after the service. I believe that, had I not gotten the "dream job" with CBS, I would have re-enlisted and by now, I would be a retired soldier, with a big "beer belly," consulting for some private security firm.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I do not read blogs. I read the CBS News page, the MSN page and if there's some story that makes me curious, I will research it by "Google-ing" it.
What's the last really great book or movie you found?
The World is Flat. What a book. Tom Friedman is a heck of a writer and he is, in my opinion, right on the money. Another of his books, From Beirut to Jerusalem is also one of my all-time favorites.
What is your first memory of TV news?
My first vivid memory of TV news is the landing on the moon … I was just a teenager and I still remember the whole thing … what a great day that was!
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
Taking into consideration that I think of camera crews as journalists, and not just technicians (a sentiment that is not shared by everybody in the TV world) I would like to see more recognition of who we are … not just when the awards come around, but on a daily basis. How many times do you hear people say: That was a great story!!! " 'Tiffany Doe' did a great job! Isn't she great"??? Oh really? Granted, she is OK, but what made the story great -- and therefore Tiffany Doe great -- were the pictures and the audio, with Tiffany Doe's words and face, all put together by the editor. That's how TV works. But we do not get the public recognition we deserve.

We are people, we have last names, from Smith to Alvarez, from Hassan to Eventov, from Podgor to McMillan, we are not all from that family with the last name "Crew."

How many times have you heard: So & so and CREW!!! Crew??? That's my partner and me! We have names…

It is ironic that I am writing this just days after we lost a crew. All of a sudden, they have names and faces. But, 24 hours later, on one of the cable channels, they were back into being "the crew." "Kimberly Dozier arrives in Germany, the crew was killed." How sad…

If you have a chance, please click on Mark Phillips' piece [here's a ] about Paul Douglas, James Brolan and Kimberly Dozier. Learn how wonderful and funny those two were, how engaging and how brave they were. They both had families. Nobody, in the viewing world, knew their names until they lost their lives. We make television what television is. Like it or not, that's the way it is…
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
I was assigned to cover Anwar El-Sadat for the better part of two and a half years, while based in Egypt, during the peace initiative. I was witness to a fantastic process, conducted on the ground mostly by Sadat. I went to Israel and Washington, D.C. for the Camp David Accords. What a fascinating man, what a courageous man. He knew that he was putting his life on the line, the moment he signed the peace treaty with Israel and he did it anyway -- a peace treaty that still stands, despite being attacked by the entire Arab world. And Sadat, as he predicted, lost his life because of it.

The biggest jerk? I cannot tell … he is still alive and I may have to go back to his country someday. He may read (if he can read) the CBS Public Eye…
Finally, a question just for Mario: What are some of the difficulties associated with operating a camera while embedded with troops?
It is not easy. Professional cameras are big and heavy. They are difficult to operate while wearing a helmet and ballistic protective goggles. The flack vest doesn't make it easier either. The camera itself is not in direct contact with my shoulder and it just doesn't feel right. But, as I always say, one of the most important characteristics of a cameraman/ soundman is adaptability, therefore … we adapt.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, I shot a lot of combat with a much smaller camera, a Sony PD 150. It's a consumer-type camera (mainly used for weddings, baptisms and bar-mitzvahs) with a side-flip monitor. It made my life a lot easier. The quality of the video suffers tremendously, but combat is combat, we need to do whatever we can to capture it.

I also have to keep in mind that a professional camera on my shoulder may look like a rocket-propelled grenade launcher to the opposing forces, and that's not a good thing…

In combat situations, I try to blend in as much as I can with whomever I am with. Sometimes, it does not work.

Paul, James … may God receive you with open arms. Kimberly, keep fighting, we cannot wait to see you again on TV. We're praying for you.

  • Hillary Profita

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