media trust

Rather’s Lawsuit Shows Role of G.O.P. in Inquiry at CBS

The headline from the New York Times sounds damning: “Rather’s Lawsuit Shows Role of G.O.P. in Inquiry.” The subhead to the article explains that Dan Rather’s lawsuit over his dismissal from CBS News “seems to have unearthed evidence of political influence in an internal CBS investigation.”

Wow. Pretty shocking. Here’s the nut graph that explains the wrongdoing:

Among the materials that money has shaken free for Mr. Rather are internal CBS memorandums turned over to his lawyers, showing that network executives used Republican operatives to vet the names of potential members of a panel that had been billed as independent and charged with investigating the “60 Minutes” segment.

Through the process of discovery, Rather obtained a memo written after the network pledged to investigate his erroneous reporting on President Bush’s National Guard service. Rather based his story, of course, on a clearly fraudulent memo that he obtained from a known partisan.

After Rather retracted the story and offered his apology, the network created an independent panel to investigate what went wrong. The smoking gun is a memo that indicated Dick Thornburgh, a former Republican Attorney General, would garner approval from G.O.P. critics as an acceptable member of the panel. Thornburgh was eventually chosen for the two-person panel along with Louis Boccardi, a former chief executive of The Associated Press.

Now, the process of vetting Thornburgh does clearly show the role of the GOP in the inquiry and does provide evidence of “political influence.” But, I see no alternative to this type of vetting. When selecting members for any independent panel, ideology must be taken into account. For instance, the 9/11 Commission featured five Republicans and five Democrats. Had one party outweighed the other, its results would not have been as trusted. Independent panels, by their very nature, must weigh the ideological baggage of its members. Otherwise, they aren’t independent.

Andrew Haywood says as much toward the end of this New York Times report:

Asked about the assembly of the panel in a sworn deposition, Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, acknowledged that he had wanted at least one member to sit well with conservatives: “CBS News, fairly or unfairly, had a reputation for liberal bias,” and “the harshest scrutiny was obviously going to come from the right.”

Well, that seems reasonable … to everyone except Dan Rather and the editors of the New York Times.

By | November 17th, 2008|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The lede in the Des Moines Register:

Barack Obama has pulled ahead in the race for Iowa’s Democratic presidential caucuses, while the party’s national frontrunner Hillary Clinton has slipped to second in the leadoff nominating state, according to The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa Poll.

Here’s the actual numbers:

Obama, an Illinois senator, leads for the first time in the Register’s poll as the choice of 28 percent of likely caucusgoers, up from 22 percent in October. Clinton, a New York senator, was the preferred candidate of 25 percent, down from 29 percent in the previous poll.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who led in the Register’s May poll, held steady with 23 percent, in third place, but part of the three-way battle.

Wow, pretty close race really. Better look at the margin or error:

The telephone survey of 500 likely Democratic caucusgoers was conducted Nov. 25 to 28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

That’s a huge margin of error. It means that every candidate might really be in a nearly 9-point (8.8) range. Edwards could be as high as 27.4 and Obama could be as low as 23.6. So, the new poll actually shows all three candidates in a statistical dead heat.

Why didn’t the Des Moines Register point this out? Because being honest about polls doesn’t make for good headlines.

All the major news outlets are guilty of similar shenanigans. No wonder media credibility numbers are in the toilet.

By | December 2nd, 2007|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Saul Friedman argues that it’s time to abandon the cliche of objectivity:

Perhaps it’s time for the reporter to do the same, now that modern journalism in most places is done with the myth of objectivity. In fact, beleaguered and bewildered newspapers need to give such freedom or latitude to their reporters as a matter of survival in a journalism that has been taken over by bloggers, good and awful, right- and left-wing interest groups, entertainers who pass as reporters, the 24/7 cable news programs and the Fox News type propagandists for whoever is in power…

In his Washington Post media column Sept. 17, Howard Kurtz wondered why news organizations couldn’t take a stand in their reporting. He asked, “Or is there no realistic way to do what critics demand without becoming partisan?” Telling truth, with good, solid reporting, will be called partisan by those who disagree with the conclusions. That has always come with the terriitory. Kurtz quoted blogger Arianna Huffington:”too many in the Washingtonpress corps want to pretend they are leaving the question of ‘what is truth’ to their readers–refusing to admit there is such a thing as truth…The administration has faith that, because of the way too many in the press operate, all it has to do is sow doubt.” Thus we are forced into writing, in effect, “on the other hand,the White House says…”

… Why can’t reporters who cover their beats well and who become as expert as possible in that field–the law, courts, medicine, consumerism, politics, the Congress, even the presidency–write for their newspapers as if they’re writing a book or a magazine piece? If they are truly expert, as many reporters are, they need not depend on someone else for a meaningless quote. They should be freed from the constraints of “he said, she said” and provide narrative journalism, which is much more interesting than “on the other handism.” And it may come closer to the truth.

But, too often “truth” is just another word for “my belief.” If we start encouraging reporters to abandon even the appearances of objectivity (via trite “he said, she said” reporting), then we’ll produce a press even more susceptible to accusations of bias.

Of course, maybe that’s what we need to do anyway. With U.S. media credibility at record lows, perhaps it’s time to adopt the European model of an overtly partisan press. Then, each paper’s writers could freely report its version of “truth.”

By | September 23rd, 2007|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Further discussion of Tony Blair’s media speech:

But for the media ponderers there’s a more troubling issue than the restoration of trust. It’s the possibility that too many people now simply don’t much care about the major media anymore. Normally the great media combines would overcome periods of lassitude by forming up focus groups to tell them what to do next. Hah! They want “Survivor”! Alas, living as we do now in a world of seemingly infinite choice, it is possible not to care for a seeming infinity of reasons, which is why the established media are having such a hard time knowing what to do.

Mr. Paxman [of the BBC] identified one reason not to care: “In the last quarter century we’ve gone from three channels to hundreds. . . . The truth is this: the more television there is, the less any of it matters.” Once there was a time when TV announcers used to say, “Stay with us.” Now no one stays. They go surfing, endlessly seeking a five-minute wave of TV that will take them just a little higher than the five minutes they just watched.

More difficult are the I-don’t-care revolutionaries, who argue that digitization has reversed the media world’s authority and power. The old aristocracy of programmers and editors has been overthrown by average people who now blog new political priorities, download media and form themselves into clickable communities. The Snowman wins. Get over it.

One part of me likes this scenario. Some say we’re living out Marshall McLuhan’s long-ago forecasts, such as, “The circuited city of the future . . . will be an information megalopolis.” Could be. If it is so that these new technologies are redistributing power into millions of liberated hands accessing “what I want, when I want it,” then we are also cruising toward what another seer predicted in three words: “Free to choose.” That seer, of course, was Milton Friedman.

That’s a good point. I don’t think we’re even talking about the same media anymore. In fact, the term “news media” is no longer relevant, because that term implies cohesiveness. It isn’t.

Today’s news consumers are indeed “free to choose.”

By | September 10th, 2007|Uncategorized|0 Comments