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All the News that's Fit to Fabricate
Author: BobR    Date: 08/22/2013 12:59:46

The HBO network has become increasingly recognized for their top-notch series. Everybody who watches has a favorite. Personally, I loved "The Wire", "Treme", and "True Blood" (before it devolved into silliness). Others are addicted to "Game of Thrones" or watched "The Sopranos" religiously. One of my current faves is "The Newsroom", which revolves around a Keith Olbermann-esque character who calls it like he sees it. The story arc for this season seems to be how a false story was reported as true, and the character(s) that cut journalistic corners because they wanted to believe the story was true.

The series reflects a lot of the reality of working in a newsroom (or so I've read), and unfortunately this story arc reflects reality as well. We know on some level that various news channels or individual reporters or analysts have their own biases, and so need to keep that in mind when we watch. Still - We all want to believe the news is at least delivering us the pertinent facts. We have seen, however, that this is not always the case.

Writer Chez Panzienza makes the point in his latest column that the story arc reflects how pseudo-"journalists" like Glenn Greenwald start with their assumption, then cherry pick the facts to reinforce it (we sadly expect that from politicians, but not from supposedly neutral sources). Abusing one's position as a reporter to present a subset of facts that don't represent reality cheapens that role in our society, and makes every subsequent declaration by that person suspect.

Both Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian UK failed to mention that when Greenwald's partner (a Brazilian citizen) was detained at Heathrow, he was being paid by the Guardian, and he was acting as a courier of stolen U.S. government documents between Greenwald and an associate in Germany. That puts an important perspective on a story that was first reported as an innocent being harassed by jack-booted thugs because of his association with a "whistle-blowing journalist".

Sometimes delivering false information is a result of laziness, or an eagerness to get the story out first. CNN cheapened their brand by reporting the exact opposite of a recent Supreme Court ruling for 45 minutes, until they had to correct themselves. Dan Rather ended up resigning in disgrace in 2004 after creating a 60 Minutes special crafted around a set of documents that turned out to be forgeries. There was talk at the time that he was set up by the right-wing to discredit the story that George Bush went AWOL during his National Guard service, and after it was revealed that the documents were not authentic, that story was immediately replaced by Dan Rather's role in fact-checking the documents. The eagerness of the 60 Minutes staff to run the story overruled the common sense that the documents needed to be authenticated vigorously, especially for a story of this magnitude. They may have gotten played, but that was their own mistake.

What's more infuriating is when reporters take quotes out of context, or chop them up and reassemble them. Most recently, Maureen Dowd is under fire for misquoting the wife of NYC mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio:
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was forced to publish a retraction on Wednesday after falsely attributing anti-gay remarks to the wife of New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. According to New York magazine, Dowd decontextualized a quote by de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray to read like an indictment of mayoral candidate Christine Quinn’s lesbianism. Dowd, for her part, blamed the misunderstanding on the fact that she interviewed McCray in a noisy coffee shop, but a recording of the interview tape now being circulated makes it clear that what McCray was saying was actually quite intelligible.

This smacks of "clip & snip" journalism. Sites like Media Matters, Snopes, and Politifact do try to verify the veracity of various news bits. It's hard, though, to keep up with a leviathan of inaccuracy like FOX "News". Their offenses are legion, and event Media Matters has a hard time documenting all of their offenses. Consider this though: How is it possible that 29% of Louisiana Republicans believe that President Obama was responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005? He had only been in the U.S. Senate for 9 months at that time. As it turns out, in Oct 2012 FOX "News" blowhard Eric Bolling put the blame on then-Senator Obama, making up his "facts" as he went along. Fellow FOX-er Bret Baier repeated the accusation an hour later. I can't quote just part of it and do it justice, so go read it in its entirety (it's not very long). This is the absolute nadir of journalism: deliberately misleading the viewers, getting them to believe falsehoods to promote a specific ideology. At that point it ceases to be journalism, and becomes propaganda.

The 1st Amendment to the Constitution was created so that the government could not stifle a free press from reporting facts as well as delivering opinions that criticize the government. With that freedom comes responsibility, the most important of which is to keep those two roles separate and distinct. Accuracy and verification have been replaced by expediency and advocacy. This does not honor the spirit of the intentions of our founding fathers and discredits what used to be a noble profession.

76 comments (Latest Comment: 08/22/2013 21:35:32 by Mondobubba)
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