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.

Continue reading

Ethics Verdict: The New York Daily News WDBJ Shooting Front Page Isn’t “Tasteless” or Unethical; It’s Journalism

Virginia shooting

Honestly, I don’t get it. The horrible photos of the exact moment deranged racist Vester Lee Flanagan opened fire on Alison Parker convey what happened in specificity and clarity that no mere verbal description could. If your issue is gun violence, this shows it. If you want to see and understand what tragedy is “up close and personal” and even if you don’t want to understand it, this is how we learn. The furious criticism being focused on the Daily News is traditional Daily News hate, as far as I can determine. That paper has been criticized for having the guts to show raw images for a century now: one of its first outrages was a surreptitious photo of murderess Ruth Snyder being electrocuted:

Snyder_chair

Now that photo is history. Today’s front page will be history too.

At the journalism ethics site of the Poynter Institute, Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president for academic programs and a media ethicist, argues against using the unedited pictures, saying that “the problem with it is that it a deeply intimate image. It is a moment of someone’s death.”

You mean like….. this?

Nagasaki

That’s just thousands of people being incinerated in Nagasaki, but from a distance, so it’s tasteful, is that the idea? Well, what about this award winner… Continue reading

Sandy Hook Massacre Ethics Train Wreck Special: Distortions From The Media, Excuses From The Biased, And A Call For Accountability

The Daily Beast, through the words of columnist David Frum. calls the latest disgraceful example of the news media bending the truth to manipulate public opinion regarding gun control, “The Newtown Heckling Controversy,.” This places that website on this train wreck as a Big Lie player. The classic formula for a Big Lie smear, for those of you who have read your Goebbels followers, is to make a blatantly false assertion, make the target of the unfair accusation deny it, and then treat it as a legitimate “controversy.” There is no controversy here, only liars and those who want to benefit from the lie, because there was no “heckling.” The real news story here is that the United States has not only developed an arrogant and ethics-free media establishment that no longer can tell true from false, it is getting more brazen by the day. There must be accountability.

The incident—or, as journalists who have decided that their jobs are not to report the news but to drive public policy in their favored direction would call it, the opportunity—occurred during the testimony before the Connecticut legislature by a parent of one of the Sandy Hook victims. [Note: I believe strongly that such testimony is itself unethical. Sorry. Legislation should be based on research, analysis, balancing, and objective analysis of what is in the best interests of the the public. There is literally nothing these parents contribute to this process, other than confusion, emotion, and dramatic video footage. They are not experts on guns, violence, the culture, the Constitution or the law. Their position is the epitome of bias. Their opinions are accorded undeserved weight by the media and mush-headed lawmakesr because they have suffered a personal , as if suffering confers sudden wisdom and balanced perspective. I know the practice is virtually routine, but it does no good, a lot of harm, and should be opposed by anyone interested in competent government.] Tearful and distraught, the grief-stricken father, Neil Heslin, said,

” I don’t know how many people have young children or children. But just try putting yourself in the place that I’m in or these other parents that are here. Having a child that you lost. It’s not a good feeling; not a good feeling to look at your child laying in a casket or looking at your child with a bullet wound to the forehead. I ask if there’s anybody in this room that can give me one reason or challenge this question: Why anybody in this room needs to have an, one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips.”

He waited, and glanced around the room. Then he said, “Not one person can answer that question!” Whereupon one clear voice with a several  others behind it call out,“The Second Amendment shall not be infringed!”

A moderator then says, “Please no comments while Mr. Heslin is speaking. Or we’ll clear the room. Mr. Heslin, please continue.”

This is what happened..this is what obviously happened. Heslin asked the occupants of the room a question posed as a challenge. Pro-gun advocates did not answer, assuming that despite the ambiguous form of the query—Heslin is not a skilled public speaker—it was a rhetorical question. Apparently Heslin didn’t think it was rhetorical, however, because he waited, as if for a response, and then made a statement that concluded unfairly, inaccurately and misleadingly that nobody in the room “can answer the question.” Predictably, a few then did answer his question, only to get slapped down by the moderator.

The headline writer at the Connecticut Post described this scene—falsely—as “Father of Newtown victim heckled at hearing.” That is a lie. Anyone who watches the video and equivocates in calling it a lie is allowing their judgment to be completely liquified by confirmation bias, or trying to facilitate a deception. Continue reading

The Ethics of Interviewing Kids on Camera

 

Art Linkletter was right: "Kids say the darndest things!"

When I initially learned about  Chicago TV station WBBM editing  an interview with a 4-year-old boy last month to make him sound like an aspiring gang-member when he actually said that he wanted to be a policeman, I decided to pass. I try to avoid making obvious observations, and nobody could defend the conduct of the station’s editors, who intentionally truncated the child’s remarks to the interviewer to make them sound chilling. The larger question of whether the child should have been interviewed at all, however, is more challenging. We see kids being interviewed on TV all the time, and it is far from certain that reporters are doing so ethically.

In the wake of  the WBBM incident, journalistic ethics expert Al Thompkins reprinted his guidelines for interviewing juveniles on the Poynter site. I’m an admirer of Thompkins, but I found his guidelines almost as chilling as the distorted interview itself. Here is his guidance on the issue of interviewing kids, with my reactions: Continue reading

Death Video Ethics

As with the video of the fatal luge run at the Olympics, as with 9-11 videos of the Twin Towers crashing down, pundits, lawyers and family members of a victim are arguing in courts of law and public opinion that the visual record of their loved one’s death should be off-limits for public. The family of Dawn Brancheau, the SeaWorld trainer who was drowned last month by a six-ton Killer Whale that held her underwater by her ponytail,  has announced that they will seek an injunction to stop the release of the death videos, captured by SeaWorld’s surveillance cameras on Feb. 24. Once the official investigation is complete, the video could be made widely available on YouTube and elsewhere. The family understandably does not want their daughter’s last moments to become a source of web entertainment. Continue reading

“Lawmiss” and the Plain Dealer’s Dilemma

The Cleveland Plain Dealer made one of those fateful first steps that ends in a journey to ethics no-man’s land when it decided to check the e-mail address of a repeat anonymous commenter on the paper’s website. “lawmiss” had been especially abusive in comments about one of the newspaper’s reporters, so instead of just deleting the comment for violating the site’s rules against personal attacks, an enterprising editor tracked down its source. Continue reading