On “Media Watchdogs,” NPR, Ted Cruz, And Unethical Editing

NPR-cruz

Newsbusters is a “media watchdog” site that doesn’t pretend to be non-partisan: it goes after the liberal mainstream media for bias. I am tempted to conclude that agenda-driven watchdogs are more credible than so-called objective watch-dogs, like CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” which are almost as biased but pretend not to be.

Newsbusters does good work sometimes, then comes up with something like Matthew Balan’s sneering attack on the news media’s praise of “Spotlight” ( CBS Celebrates ‘Very Powerful,’ ‘Fantastic’ Liberal Reporter Movie) which didn’t contain a word about why the media shouldn’t be praising it. (I don’t think Balan saw the movie.) It’s an embarrassing piece, Newsbusters at its biased worst. The writer keeps telling us that actor Mark Ruffalo. who plays one of the reporters in the film,  is “left wing,” as if that is relevant to the role he played in the film (it isn’t). Apparently Balan thinks that a remarkably accurate movie about good investigative reporting and a scandal involving harm to hundreds of thousands of children shouldn’t be made because it doesn’t make organized religion look good, and does make a liberal newspaper look good.

He’s nuts. Are religious conservatives that deranged, that a straightforward, true account of the news media doing its job (for a change) and the historic and world-shaking scandal it uncovered confirms their suspicions of a progressive Hollywood conspiracy? The movie isn’t political in any way! It was praised by CBS and other critics because it’s a terrific movie that has only one agenda, which is to tell an important story compellingly. Sorry that it gives the Catholic Church the treatment it deserves, Newsbusters.

On the left is Media Matters, David Brock’s site that makes Newsbusters look like the epitome of non-partisan analysis. It’s not even a watchdog, and barely pretends to be any more: it is a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Is there a good, objective, non-partisan media watchdog site that isn’t trying to prop up parties and candidates? The closest is probably Poynter.org, (Wait, why isn’t this in the Ethics Alarms links? Better fix THAT…), out of the Poynter Institute, which has the broader agenda of teaching and promoting good and ethical journalism. The site doesn’t—can’t—cover all the misconduct in the media. It does a good job when it does, though: here’s a current post on the media’s race-baiting Justice Scalia, which I covered yesterday. It concludes…

“The New York Times duly noted that one Scalia remark “drew muted gasps in the courtroom.” (The New York Times) But “far from being racist, that proposition is an acknowledgment of racial inequality — and it’s central to the argument for racial preferences. Those preferences wouldn’t be necessary if applicants from all racial and ethnic groups possessed exactly the same paper credentials.”(The Los Angeles Times) Unfortunately, the digital age brings a few too many reporters sitting at desks and doing facile, Twitter-friendly rewrites of stuff they know little about.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Back to Newsbusters: When it is good, it can be very good, as it was yesterday exposing an outrageous distortion of a Ted Cruz interview on NPR. I knew that interviewers edit interview answers for broadcast. I did not know that any major news organization would think it was ethical to distort the emphasis, thrust and meaning of a Presidential candidate’s words this blatantly. (But then Cruz is a conservative.) NPR duly posted the unedited interview transcript online, which is not good enough: how many listeners are going to check what they heard driving to work to discover what was really said? How many suspect that what they heard was sliced and diced like gazpacho? Not many, and NPR knows it.

In checking what Cruz really said and what the broadcast of his interview with NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep made him out to say, Newsbusters reporter Tim Graham found text that showed the Cruz’s answers were shortened by mid-paragraph cuts, blunting his points and also censoring his most critical comments about the Obama Administration and its current policies. Here is the section of the interview containing the most edits. Graham has bolded the cuts; what is not bolded is what the NPR audience heard. I’ll break in here and there, in italics.

STEVE INSKEEP: All this led to a bottom-line question when Senator Cruz visited our studios. [To Cruz] Which Muslims do you want to keep out of the United States?

TED CRUZ: Well, I’m not sure that’s the way I would put the question. What I would say is what is the obligation of the president and commander in chief? And the first obligation is to keep this country safe. And the first obligation is to keep this country safe,  and so I’ve introduced legislation that would suspend for three years refugees from countries where ISIS or al-Qaida control a substantial amount of territory. And the reason is simple. The FBI has told Congress that the Obama administration cannot vet these refugees.

This is substantive, and important to let listeners hear. The only excuse for leaving out Cruz’s proposal is to make it easier to present him as a Trump clone on Muslim immigration.

INSKEEP: The Texas senator wore a white shirt and orange tie. He was on his way to work in Washington. Cruz introduced legislation after the recent attacks in Paris. His bill would make it even harder than it is for refugees to reach the U.S. from five war-torn countries. Cruz says the few exceptions would include non-Muslims who are persecuted.

Better to have an incomplete description of Cruz’s bill rather than Cruz’s description, eh, NPR? Defend that from a journalism ethics perspective.

CRUZ: President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s plan to bring tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to America when the FBI says they cannot ascertain if these refugees are ISIS terrorists or not – that makes no sense.

INSKEEP: I’ve had a look at your legislation. It specifies some countries — Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, other countries could be added by the government over time. But I have to note, you’re looking at refugees, not broadly people entering the United States, including by easier paths. You’re not bringing up Pakistan, which is where one of the San Bernardino attackers came from. You’re not bringing up Brussels, which is where some of the Paris attackers came from. Why not?

CRUZ: There is no doubt that we need broader reforms. And, in fact, talking about Brussels and Europe, one of the real challenges is the visa waiver program. And unfortunately if you look at Europe, the problem of terrorism is definitely growing there because of many of these waves of refugees that’ve flowed into Europe.

But the immediate threat we have is ISIS. The Islamic state has declared jihad on America. They have declared their intention to commit acts of terror like they did in Paris, like occurred in San Bernardino, and they’ve made clear that they intend to use the refugee program to do that.

And so there is a very simple question that, as far as I’m concerned, the president ought to be asked every time he is asked a question, which is: Why would you bring people in when the FBI tells you they cannot vet them to determine whether or not they’re terrorists?

INSKEEP: But can’t someone ask you, why would you focus on refugees who tend to be fleeing a situation, and leave alone, at least for the moment, all these other routes, and all other kinds of people who — who actually have proven in a few cases to be dangerous?

CRUZ: Because if you look at, for example, the Paris terrorists, we know that at least one of them came in among the refugees. This is — this is an influx of population where the FBI says they lack the information to ascertain if they’re terrorists. What James Comey — and, by the way, James Comey, the head of the FBI, was appointed by Barack Obama. What he told Congress is the FBI lacks the information on who in Syria is involved with Syria, who’s involved with the jihadists.

A rather important point, I’d say.

And so as he put it, he said, “We can query the database till the cows come home; we’ll get no results because we don’t have the underlying information to check them.” If you look, for example — you’re right.

Look, do we need to impose stronger background checks and security checks on immigration more generally in an age of terror? Absolutely. If you look at the wife among the San Bernardino terrorists, she came on a fiancee visa.

The background check vetting for fiancee visas is essentially identical to what President Obama and Hillary Clinton say they want to put on these Syrian refugees. Now, the problem is, look — she put a made-up address, a fictional home address, and yet the background check of the vetting didn’t, didn’t catch that. And given — given the widespread lethality of radical Islamic terrorism, we need to be serious responding to it.

And the problem, Steve — this president doesn’t even acknowledge the problem exists, much less put in place serious policies to deal with it.

INSKEEP: You — you’ve made an exception for people from those countries who may be victims of genocide, which has been interpreted as people who may be Christian or non-Muslim. Are you actually imposing a religious test here?

CRUZ: Well, it is true the legislation I’ve introduced has an exception for those who are victims of genocide, those who are religious minorities. Christians could fall into that category; Yazidis could fall into that category.

Now, I would note, the notion of a religious test, our immigration law for decades has included provisions focusing on religious persecution. We have always had a religious test. And what is happening to the Christians by ISIS is qualitatively different. They are facing genocide in that ISIS is attempting to exterminate the Middle Eastern Christians in a way that is qualitatively different from other people.

There are many refugees there that are fleeing war conditions, that are fleeing poverty, that are fleeing chaos. But genocide is something we have always recognized as qualitatively different, when a particular religious minority is being persecuted and being murdered the way Christians are being crucified, beheaded, raped and murdered by ISIS.
I’d call this material to the discussion, wouldn’t you? Too gross for breakfast, maybe.

INSKEEP: Is there a bigger cultural concern that you’re actually speaking to on some level here, Senator — the concern among some in America that there are just too many Muslims coming and that they are culturally inappropriate for the United States?

CRUZ: Look, I can’t speak for what concerns you might have or others have. My concern is keeping America safe. And we need a commander in chief whose single-minded focus is protecting this nation.

You know, President Obama, when he addressed the nation, he gave a speech that was so utterly disconnected from the threats facing this country. He gave a speech in which he never once uttered the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” Now, why is that? Because he never utters the word. It is a policy throughout the administration that you cannot acknowledge the evil we face. And in fact —

NSKEEP: He did talk about terrorism, if I might, and talked about extreme beliefs among, among Muslims —

CRUZ: But — but this is important. Yes, he talks about terrorism writ large, but he doesn’t acknowledge radical Islamic terrorism. It is a particular threat. And he treats it — indeed, I was at the prayer breakfast where the, the National Prayer Breakfast when it was right after, you’ll recall, the Jordanian pilot had been lit on fire. The king of Jordan was supposed to be at the prayer breakfast. He flew back to Jordan to deal with the aftermath of that act of terror.

And President Obama got up and gave a remarkable speech where he served as an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists. Now, what does it mean to be an apologist? Because those are strong words. An apologist is someone that gives a rationalization, gives a justification, that steps forward and tries to explain in a reasonable way the conduct of others.

What President Obama says is, “Yes, ISIS are committing terrorist acts.” But at the prayer breakfast, he said, “You know what? Christians and Jews have done bad things, too; look at the Crusades; look at the Inquisition.”

NPR won’t stand for legitimate criticism of the President who pays its salaries.

INSKEEP: Isn’t he just trying to make sure that he’s not singling out Muslims who may be loyal Americans?

CRUZ: Baloney. Last I checked, the Crusades and Inquisitions ended hundreds of years ago. I don’t think it’s too much to be asking for the president to stay in the current millennium. And here’s the problem. That argument is exactly the argument ISIS uses. They justify their acts of terror based on the Crusades and Inquisition. If the Crusades and Inquisition were happening now, I would readily speak out against them. They were wrong.

But thankfully they are not, and we need a president who can distinguish — you know, I have a book that I wrote this summer that you and I have talked about before. It’s called A Time for Truth.

INSKEEP: Right. Yeah.

CRUZ: In that book, I quote Egypt’s president, President al-Sisi, who, in a remarkable speech that he gave on January 1st of this year at Cairo University — in that speech, President al-Sisi calls out radical Islamic terrorism, calls out the grave threat, and calls on the Muslim world to rise up against radical Islamic terrorism.

Now, for President al-Sisi to do that — he is a Muslim leader of one of the largest Muslim nations in the world — for him to do that, that was courageous. He was literally putting a bounty on his head for the Islamists who will try to murder him for calling it out. And as I observe in the book, A Time for Truth, what does it say when the president of Egypt shows more courage, more clarity, more willingness to confront this evil threat than does the president of the United States? That’s unfortunate.

It is common courtesy on TV and radio to always let guests plug their books. Nah.

NSKEEP: Has Donald Trump effectively outbid you here, Senator? Because he’s calling to block all Muslims from coming to the United States, which would eliminate any potential Muslim who might be a threat.

CRUZ: Well, I disagree with Donald on that. He — he is welcome to discuss his policy ideas. That — that is not my view of how we should approach it. My view is we should focus very directly on the threat, which is radical Islamic terrorism. And Islamism —

INSKEEP: So, you’re fine if plenty of Muslims come by other routes other than what your legislation deals with? You’re perfectly comfortable with that?

CRUZ: There are millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. There are millions of peaceful Muslims in America. This is not about the Islamic faith. It is about Islamism, which is a very different thing.

Islamism, you saw with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, a belief — the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization. It funds jihadists across the world. And Islamism is a political and theological belief that the fanatics must bring an Islamic caliphate to this world, that they must forcibly convert or murder all of the infidels, being anyone that doesn’t embrace their radical Islamic views, and that they must wage jihad against not just the little Satan, which is what they call Israel, but also the great Satan, which is what they call America. In all of that, they are very candid about saying it is their object to kill as many Americans as possible, and the president refuses to acknowledge this or to do anything serious to defend this.

Again, another critical, substantive distinction. What is Cruz really taking about? NPR would prefer its audiences to be confused on that point.Unfortunately typical of Newsbusters, Graham complains that the interview is asking Cruz tougher questions than he recently asked Bernie Sanders and Obama in interviews. That’s not germane to the ethics of this interview, however: Cruz should be questioned sharply, and there is nothing wrong with the questions. The editing, however, is unconscionable. NPR had two ethical choices:

  • Broadcast the whole interview, perhaps in segments, or
  • Broadcast only some of the exchanges, but include all of Cruz’s answers without redacting them.

What NPR did is to make Senator Cruz sound like he was saying something he wasn’t in several answers where the omitted sections would have enhanced and explicated what the audience heard. That’s terrible journalism, unfair to the audience and the interview subject, and atrocious ethics.

5 thoughts on “On “Media Watchdogs,” NPR, Ted Cruz, And Unethical Editing

  1. Typical partisan journalism. They take out substance where it would clarify and clarify where there is no substance.
    Example: Hillary/Obama didn’t really mean what she/he said when she/he said — . (insert any Hillary lie) She/he really meant —. (Insert whatever the specific group being conned wants it to mean)

  2. I admit the original answers are more rational than I expected. To me the bigger question is what happened to journalism? We’ve reached this nadir, but when and how did a preference and the chase for ratings become hatchet jobs even on once respectable sources? I suspect the old school journalists I remember are spinning in their graves…

  3. Wow…I heard the interview on the radio, and I though Ted Cruz’s answers were awful, and that he sounded like an idiot…and, as I heard it as I arrived at work, I had not time or intention to look up the transcript. The complete interview is VERY different. Thank you for posting this!

    Also, the movie Spotlight received very favorable reviews from the Catholic press. The Catholic bloggers I follow all recommended it; some even to the point of suggesting that every Catholic must see it. And these were orthodox (what some would call conservative) Catholics. Please remember that not all of us (Catholics) are bad.

  4. You have to wonder just how prevalent this practice is among news outlets. It also raises the question of why America taxpayers are supporting this sorry band of non-journalists in the first place.

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