Please Stand By

Marissa Hallare-Leinart


Sweat cascaded from my armpits like a waterfall as I heard the director’s voice in my ear monitor.

“Marissa, we’re still not getting a video signal,” he said casually. “You’re our lead story, so be ready no matter what happens.”

Think about what to say, I tried to tell myself. But my mind filled instead with images of the hundreds of times I’d heard those panic-inspiring words over the past twenty years.

“Ten seconds.” The director’s words left my knees weak, my mind blank, and my heart beating ten times its usual pace. You’re a professional, I reminded myself. Oh, dear Lord, get me through this!

He did. The director said, “Go,” and the right words somehow fell from my mouth.

Finding the Dirt

I got through that video catastrophe without a hitch. But other aspects of my job as a television reporter and anchor weren’t nearly so simple, like trying to get interviews with victims’ family members.

It’s the worst part of reporting: finding the dirt. Once you find it, you’ll undoubtedly receive praise from your boss and colleagues on a job well done. But I hated the thought of knocking on doors, confronting victims’ family members, and convincing them to talk to me on camera. If I got one of them to sob hysterically, I knew my story would most likely be the lead.

Contradiction

That frame of mind felt like a huge contradiction of what I stood for and what I believed as a Christian. It wasn’t right that I manipulated my moves on grieving family members so they’d give me an Emmy award-winning interview. It wasn’t right that my job came before people’s feelings, especially those of people who’d lost loved ones.

But I tried to convince myself that I was just following the rules of my often “dirty” job. God understands, I told myself. I know He does. The problem was, I really didn’t know. At the end of each day, I tried to defend my actions to myself. Instead of feeling better, I felt miserable and knew deep down that no job was worth more than people’s feelings.

“Help, Lord! Get me out of here!” I desperately prayed.

Pressure

Looking back, I realize I had grown to expect — even rely on — the constant pressure heaped on a television news reporter/anchor. If I didn’t feel the pressure, I didn’t think I was doing my job. I eventually started to believe that without a deadline to meet, I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile. Many said to me, “That’s no way to live.” But that’s the only way I knew how to live.

Empty Heart

Still trying to be a good Christian, I attended a weekly Bible study — unless, of course, I had a hard day at work. As those hard days became more frequent, so did the number of days I got home from work with swollen eyes from crying in my car. The discontent, fear, and anxiety eventually left my heart empty and my body numb.

During one crying spree on the trip home, I started wondering what would happen if my car accidentally veered and fell off the freeway. I grasped the steering wheel until my knuckles were white. God can get me through this, I reminded myself in desperation.

Questions

“How can I be thinking such morbid thoughts?” I sobbed into my husband’s shoulder at home. “What right do they have to force me to always look for the bad in everyone and completely ignore the good? Why has yelling become the only way anyone in the news business can ever be heard? Why is gossiping so rampant? And why does it seem as though backstabbing is the main hobby of nearly everyone I work with?”

My husband quietly rubbed my back and stroked my hair as I continued my tirade. “Oh sure, it’s easy to look good and sound great. But what ever happened to being real? Why can’t I just be myself?

“I’ll tell you why! I’d get stepped on, abused, and mistreated. I’m not mean enough for this business. I wish I could learn to defend myself better. Maybe I should start blaming others for my actions as everyone else does. That’s how they manage to stay afloat. I’m just treading water, and I feel as though I’m about to go down for the last time.”

“Do you want to be like them?” my husband asked. His strong, gentle voice helped calm me.

“I think I have to,” I answered. Though I didn’t want to, I silently resolved to work harder to conform to management’s blood-and-guts kind of thinking.

Blood and Guts

Over the next several months, I knocked on doors and asked mourning families how they felt about losing their loved ones to drive-by shootings or murders. I took advantage of a child’s willingness to talk to the press to hype my story. I learned to pose a question just right to incite a few tears so it would add to my story and tug at viewers’ heartstrings. I lied to people, assuring them our cameras were off when they were actually on. I defended the media when I knew we were at fault. I was rude to victims and their families as I ran after them and jammed a microphone into their face for a comment.

The more I hassled people and the more intrusive, aggressive, and loud I got, the better I did my job — or so I thought.

Inner War

In reality, I was weary. A war waged inside me. I ran to God for help, often finding myself unable to feel His comfort. Thinking the answer was to spend more time reading God’s Word, I tried to sneak in a scripture or two during break times. But my mind was always elsewhere and hardly ever at ease.

With Satan’s presence growing ever stronger in my newsroom, I felt as though I was always running. I felt trapped in a deep, dark hole. The longer I stayed, the faster I sank. I knew I had to leave a business I’d loved since age eleven, when I started in radio in Chicago. But the broadcasting industry had radically changed in those twenty years. It was time to move on.

Off the Air

The Lord was patiently waiting for me when I finally left broadcast news. A few days before my decision, I interviewed a pastor in a small mining community where he’d lost his home to a flood. As he shared his heartwarming story, I asked, “How did you know God was speaking to you?”

The pastor answered, “You won’t have to ask. You’ll just know.”

Tears flowed as the Lord spoke to me through this man. Four days later, I submitted my resignation.

My last story was a follow-up on a triple murder in Phoenix. For the first time, I felt relaxed as I talked to neighbors. I wasn’t my usual reporter self. I was quick to listen to neighbors before bombarding them with questions. I even took time to have a pleasant conversation with a man and kindly asked him if I could pick a rose petal from his garden. As I smelled the radiant scent, I instantly felt God’s presence.

At that point, I knew I had made the right decision.

Looking Back

It’s been nearly two years since I left television. I thought I’d miss hearing my name announced, seeing myself on the air, or being recognized. But I haven’t. I don’t regret being in the television business. Those tough experiences helped build my character and faith in the Lord. As my faith grew, so did my identity in Christ. I don’t need to turn on the tube or possess a glamorous job title to remind me of my worth to God.

Three weeks after my departure, the Lord opened a huge window of opportunity. He allowed me to join the media relations team of Food for the Hungry, a Christian-motivated relief and development organization in Scottsdale, Arizona. There I was able to use the talents the Lord gave me to glorify Him. In 1996, I won an Emmy for the documentary “A Look Inside Africa.” I was delighted to win the award while working for a worthwhile Christian organization.

Currently, I’m pregnant and am planning to be a stay-at-home mom. But I’m grateful for my trials in television, for they taught me that no matter what I do, the one I should always please is God.