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Thursday, December 22, 2011

SHAPING THE NEWS

"It’s amazing how much I can lower my expectations of the mainstream media and still give them too much credit."

Newt Glitter Bombed
I've been guilty of thinking this way in the past, and I have read plenty of people complain that politicians won't do it, but it doesn't work. Here's what I'm talking about: if you've read a news report or story of any right-leaning politician, you'll find out that what they said and what was reportedly said are often fairly different. Usually, the politician will put things in a way that's easily distorted or edited to be damaging or embarrassing to them, and you just can't help but wish they would speak more carefully.

The problem is, you cannot speak so carefully that a reporter cannot trim, spin, or even lie their way into making you look bad if they choose to. Here's a recent example:
Newt Gingrich agreed Tuesday with a Iowan voter who identified himself as gay that he should support President Obama again in 2012. (Dec. 21)(CBS News)
Well shoot, that doesn't seem very smart of Newt, and he's usually so intelligent. All around the internet, the story spread: Newt tells gays to vote for Obama. A DeMoines Register blog reported it this way:
Newt Gingrich told a gay man and longtime resident of Oskaloosa here today that he should vote for President Obama.

“I asked him if he’s elected, how does he plan to engage gay Americans. How are we to support him? And he told me to support Obama,” said Scott Arnold, an adjunct professor of writing at William Penn University.”
It was repeated all over the place but the problem is that's not what he said. Newt was very careful. Here's how the conversation went:
I think for those for whom the only issue that really matters is the definition of marriage, I won’t get their support and I accept that that’s the reality. On the other hand for those for whom it’s not the central issue in their lives, if they care about job creation, if they care about national security, if they care about a better future for the country at large, then I think I’ll get their support.
The full video is available at Legal Insurrection where I saw this story.

Now, I suppose some of these news organizations can be defended by saying they only talked to the gay man who deliberately misrepresented what Newt said, but CBS is the site that has the video so what's their excuse? And isn't it kind of the job of a reporter to make sure they get the story straight, especially quotes?

The thing is, as Karl Popper says (and the American Digest comments page reminds us) "It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." And it is impossible to state something so perfectly that a hostile reporter cannot make it look bad, especially on any remotely controversial subject. That doesn't mean you should be a fumbling, foot-in-mouth idiot or misspeak constantly (Perry, for example) or be tone deaf to your audience, but it does mean you can't avoid the press mangling or inventing your quotes.

Most of the time, if properly and accurately quoted, or even summarized, peoples' statements aren't newsworthy. If you are careful and intelligent in how you speak, it almost certainly won't be. So the news likes to jazz up quotes, make them sexier, more interesting for readers and draw attention that way. I know from experience working with the Washington Examiner how editors like to mess with your writing to "fix" it by making it sound like an idiot wrote it, or twist your headlines around to be misleading or at least focus on something minor that will gain attention.

And when you combine that natural instinct with the hostility the legacy media has toward Republicans, particularly more right-leaning ones like Newt has been in the past at times, and especially Newt Gingrich himself, well you get results like this. This wasn't an attempt to write the news, it was an attempt to write something that will push voters away from Gingrich, even if it wasn't true. And he's hardly the only person who has had that happen to them.

Just something to keep in mind in the coming months. Don't trust, and always verify.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Eric said...

It's really a very huge problem with the modern media, and it runs both ways; the conservative and the liberal outlets are guilty of ignoring important nuance in order to make headlines.

It is important to the story that the homosexual who heard Newt say those words walked away with the idea that, "he told me to vote for Obama". There is newsworthiness in what happened: Republicans haven't found a very effective way to illustrate the benefit their policies will have on the lives of homosexuals who see the conservative stance on gay marriage as a personal attack. Newt's interaction with this man provides an excellent example of a conservative trying to overcome that issue and failing , thus reinforcing the idea that GOP's strategy is not working. That's worthy of some discussion.

But it's not the story that got reported.

11:20 AM, December 22, 2011  
Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

I'd guess that nothing Newt said would work because the man was predisposed to dislike and oppose him to begin with, but that's just a guess.

And yeah I get tired of "red meat" headlines - some blogs like Gateway Pundit and Moonbattery are really bad at misleading and sometimes deliberately deceptive headlines.

12:15 PM, December 22, 2011  

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