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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, September 15, 2000

Black box a freaking cover up
THE black box is back. The black box is used by the media to cover up something that viewers might find offensive or to protect the identity of someone doing something the public might find offensive.

On the cover of dirty magazines -- so I've been told -- publishers put the black rectangle over the naughty bits of naked models. Inside -- so I'm told -- you can see the full Monty.

So it was kind of a shock to see the black box appear on the cover of this newspaper Wednesday. It was used on a photo of University of Hawai'i professor Haunani-Kay Trask and no, it was not used to cover up any naughty bits. It was used to cover up a word on a sign she was holding to protest Gov. Ben Cayetano's refusal to reappoint a number of Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees who had been forced to resign.

One of those not reappointed was Trask's sister, Mililani, which may or may not have prompted Haunani-Kay to march in front of Washington Place with the offensive sign.

And what did the sign say? Well, even with the black box over one of the words, everyone knows what it said. That's the way it is with black boxes, their job is to protect innocent eyes while conveying information to everyone else who "gets it."

The last time I came across the use of the black box was in connection with our cat Musubi. Musubi, now departed, was an amazing animal. As a youngster, she would roll over on command and even "shake," delicately lifting a paw, like a dog. She also would jump like a circus tiger through a hoop made from a wire coat hanger. I never lit the hoop on fire, but Musubi would have jumped through that too, because she was a game little kitty.

But Musubi's biggest claim to fame was that she used the toilet. She would hop up there like a champ and do her business, either No. 1 or No. 2, so we never had to deal with smelly kitty litter. Having many friends in the news business, her fame was widely known.

ONE day I came home from work and found reporter Pamela Young, then with Channel 2, sitting on the couch talking to my wife. A cameraman was sitting on the hallway floor, his camera pointing into the bathroom.

What's going on? I asked.

"Pamela's doing a story on Musubi and we're waiting for her to go No. 2. Musubi, that is," my wife said.

I looked in the bathroom and there was Musubi stretched out in front of the tub, napping.

"I don't think she's going to do it," I said. Who could? Talk about pressure. A cameraman camped in the bathroom doorway!

I told Pamela that I would use my camcorder and catch Musubi in the act when she took her daily constitutional. The next morning, acting as the in-house pooparazzi, I recorded the event and delivered the tape to Pamela.

Apparently, the tape was a tad too graphic. Because when the story aired, Channel 2 had placed a black box over Musubi's backside, which I thought was unfair. They should have put the black box over her face, so other cats wouldn't recognize her as the feline being shamelessly exposed on island television.

I'm not trying to make some kind of cute editorial statement, equating what Musubi was doing on the toilet to what Haunani-Kay Trask was doing with the obscene poster in front of the governor's mansion the other day.

It is interesting, though, that the news media decided to use the black box in both cases.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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