Fat Steve's Blatherings

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Editing As Lying, or, The World Has Changed

      Once upon a time, there was an event called the Viet Nam Moratorium.  On that day in 1969, protests against the war were staged around the country.

      Someone who wrote for Ayn Rand's magazine, The Objectivist, was allowed to spend a week or so in the newsroom observing one of the networks getting ready to cover that day.

      At no time, did she see any dishonesty, in the simple sense of trying to say something they knew or believed to be untrue.  At no time did she see or hear anyone express a desire to push a political viewpoint.  But the report ended up biased throughout.

      What the network did is devote a lot of time to broadcasting pictures of the protests, pictures that made the protesters look good.  Something like eight to ten minutes of screen time.  Then it noted that there were people who still supported the war, and had staged counter-demonstrations.  They got two minutes, one full minute of which was Georgia Governor Lester Maddox singing "God Bless America" or some such.

      In short, by controlling what was shown, the network had made the anti-war opinion look like the majority sentiment in the country, when actually it was a minority view still.  And by showing the pro-war and anti-war opinion in the way they did, it made the anti-war case look serious and intelligent, the pro-war case look stupid.

      Not long after that, Edith Efron published a book with the title The News Twisters.  The thesis was that the networks' coverage of the 1968 presidential race was very biased.  She explained in each case she cited why she felt that particular segment was slanted.

      One example in particular was an event where Hubert Humphrey had denounced "demonstrators" who rioted.  He made a major speech on the theme that people who did such things were totally illegitimate, despite any allegedly good cause they might claim to be pushing.  In the middle, of course, he made the obligatory statement that people had a right to peacefully protest.  CBS took that portion and broadcast it, left out everything else Humphrey had said, and slanted the story to 'Humphrey is obsessed with demonstrators who dislike him.'  Efron classified this story as biased reporting, anti-Humphrey variety.

      When Efron's book was about to come out, CBS had a long press release that supposedly showed how utterly wrong she was.  The example just mentioned was singled out as one of her alleged mistakes.  Of course, at no time did CBS spell out Efron's position clearly, and then rebut her.  They just quoted what they, CBS, has broadcast, and said, 'Hey, what's anti-Humphrey about that?'

      Efron eventually got another tome out of the incident, How CBS Tried to Kill a Book.  But objectively speaking, CBS either did kill The News Twisters, or at least gave it crippling wounds.  Today, both books are almost forgotten.

      I've been thinking of this in connection with the CBS memo mess.  The network last night responded to questions about its story.  As The New York Post noted:

      . . . by airing last night's segment at all, CBS and Rather were admitting something extraordinary had happened — that serious challenges to their original reporting had been mounted.

      But no challenger was brought on the show.

      Rather defined the terms of the discussion, asked the questions, picked the individuals who responded, presumably screened their answers — and basically declared himself innocent.

      That is, he stuck in his thumb, pulled out a plum — and said: "What a fine anchor am I."

      That probably won't cut it. In the age of the Internet, the truth will out.

      And today, the blog INDC JOURNAL has another scoop.  The day before yesterday, INDC reported on Dr. Bouffard, a documents expert who said the memos probably couldn't have been produced on a 1973 typewriter.  The Globe published a story today titled "Authenticity backed on Bush documents".  The story has Bouffard saying:
      Philip D. Bouffard, a forensic document examiner in Ohio who has analyzed typewritten samples for 30 years, had expressed suspicions about the documents in an interview with the New York Times published Thursday, one in a wave of similar media reports.  But Bouffard told the Globe yesterday that after further study, he now believes the documents could have been prepared on an IBM Selectric Composer typewriter available at the time.

      Well, Bouffard tells INDC that he said no such thing.  INDC claims Bouffard told him:
      "What I said to them was, I got new information about possible Selectric fonts and (Air Force) documents that indicated a Selectric machine could have been available, and I needed to do more analysis and consider it."
      But now that he's had a chance to review the evidence, he still thinks the memos are frauds, produced on a modern word processor.

      Now I'm torn.  Should I tell the MSM how to deal with the new era, or should I just refrain from interfering as the enemy destroys itself?

      Update: OOPS!  I forgot.  Instapundit gets the hat tips
for the INDC and Post links.



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