21 February 2008

Betrayal


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


News is something somebody doesn't want printed; all else is advertising.
--William Randolph Hearst


This was going to be a fairly leisurely article about media coverage of the current political campaign with a nice historical twist about newspapers, television, and cable outlets, and then the New York Times dropped its bombshell about Senator McCain. They placed an article filled with innuendo on the front page of what is considered the nation's "Newspaper of Record" complete with attractive photo of the lady concerned in formal dress obviously out for an evening. This may or may not turn out to be true, but the coverage by cable news in the light of the history of newspapers and "slanted" articles is very interesting.

Once upon a time every city of any size in the United States had a minimum of two papers. Large cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco had more, as well as tabloids, ethnic publications, weekly papers, and political journals. There were nationwide chains and major owners such as Hearst, Pulitzer, and Ochs.

With the 20th century an ethos developed where the editorial and news sections were separate. The editorial pages could slant any way the owners wanted, but the news section was to adhere to "just the facts" of - "What, When, Why, Where, How and Who". The rise of the wire services, which distributed stories to many different papers, of many different political persuasions reduced the emphasis on personal opinion in news stories.

Take a fun break and look for a picture starring Clark Gable and Doris Day, "Teacher's Pet". It is a delightful mix of romantic comedy, musical, and a fairly accurate look at newspaper coverage of the time period. Stay through to the end of the clip for a good newspaper story, complete with "slant". If you rent it later, it also has one of the best "hangover" scenes ever courtesy of Gig Young who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

By the 1960s, radio and TV news had cut into the circulation of newspapers. Although most people turned first to the broadcast media for fast-breaking news, many relied on newspapers to fill in needed details -- just as they do today. (The text of a typical radio or TV newscast wouldn't even fill one page of an eight or nine column newspaper. Usually, one newspaper was considered "liberal" while the other was "conservative". Still the readership had declined to the point that in most cities there was only one paper due to a merger between the morning an evening papers.

The three major TV networks and the line up of the respected newsmen who had come out of WW II were straightforward newscasts. They were so respected for their accuracy that there is the famous LBJ quote, after a critical report on the Vietnam War, "if we've lost Walter Cronkite, we've lost the country." For years the national anchors and their news departments, while somewhat stodgy, brought news to the American public. Now they were often accused of being "liberal" by conservative newspapers, but the multiple sources that balanced newspapers and TV allowed the public to find the "slant" on information that they preferred while a competing source balanced the data.

As cable has intruded on the the networks they have become more "entertainment" oriented while CNN became the major source for "News", FOX became the major source for the arch conservative view, and MSNBC concentrated on the political scene. In the current election, MSNBC has gone completely off the rails, and unfortunately, because of the lack of intense political coverage by other cable and network outlets, it has reached the point of being dangerous.

Now I will state up front that I support Hillary Clinton for President, something that dismays my more liberal friends. I will therefor concede that I may be somewhat sensitive to the non stop bashing of women in general and the candidate in particular. When coupled with the almost fawning coverage of Senator Obama this has been a major source of frustration. I finally got to the point where I just accepted it as being part of the game of running for office, until it reached the point of Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson, Joe Scarborough, and Mika Brezinsky (whose father works for Obama)as the worst offenders who literally could not get five minutes into any hour without saying something negative about Senator Clinton. I can tell when a TV commentator is slanting coverage both right and left. Like it or not words have power and for some reason MSNBC decided that destroying Hillary Clinton was a mission. A couple of days ago when she had lost several primaries in a row, someone over there seemed to wake up that just maybe they had gone too far. That doesn't mean she didn't help with a poorly run campaign, but it doesn't relieve them of the guilt of betraying their profession and their audience with unfair coverage.

Before anyone thinks this is a Clinton apologia, I would be just as upset if the same techniques were used on the opposing candidate. That opportunity came with the right wing report on a Michelle Obama quote about being "proud of America." When MSNBC gets off a bandwagon it's very interesting. The Michelle Obama remark you can hear on C-SPAN. says "really proud" obviously meaning that the joy of the successes of her husband made her joyous. There was no doubt what she meant. The right wing has clipped out the word "really" which totally changes the meaning. This altered clip has been making the right wing rounds.

MSNBC plays the altered version and questioned an Obama surrogate about why Michelle wasn't proud of her country before now. In addition they keep playing the Cindy McCain remark, "I've ALWAYS been proud of my country" They have now followed this with the looped Chris Matthews video of the demand for achievements from the Texas representative even though it was obvious the man was not versed on Senator Obama's record. This is despicable. After months of non stop Clinton bashing, they finally seem to be using some of the same techniques on Obama, and it is just as rotten. Now the McCain story has blown up and they are criticizing the New York Times for lack of evidence and questioning their motivation, of course this now makes it possible to drop the Obama story while the Times/McCain story will play all day.

When networks lie, yes I said LIE via slant, additions, omissions, or the just plain ignorance of their newswriters or on-air broadcast personnel, they fail in their responsibility to the American public. We are in the process of trying to nominate the best possible person as President of the United States. That cannot be done if we cannot trust the coverage provided by a news outlet that is starting to resemble a propaganda rag such as Pravda a great deal more than they resemble lauded newscasters such as Murrow or Cronkite.

5 comments:

Matt-Man said...

Screw the facts, we need ratings. Cheers Jamie!!

Wendy! said...

Hey Jamie:

I don't know if you saw myDDs take on the Obama "proud of my country" or "really proud of my country" quote - thought it was interesting:

http://www.mydd.com/story/2008/2/21/1092/35702

Linda said...

You bring up some very excellent points in this post and I only wish the powers-that-be over at MSNBC would read it. It has become increasingly difficult to believe anything about any of the candidates anymore as the people we used to turn to for the truth, can't seem to get a story straight for anything anymore.

Poor Walter Cronkite and Roger Mudd and Harry Reasoner must be spinning in their graves at this shambles.

Travis said...

News as entertainment. That's what we have now.

Regrettably, this approach tends to foster a general populace that often doesn't realize that it really doesn't know what it's talking about most of the time.

News anchors have forgotten that I don't care what they think about the news, I just want to know what the news is.

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