Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ethics, Editing and the American Media Defense of NPR

I know that I don’t post here nearly as often as I would like, but I wait until something happens that really annoys me. I want to rant about things that have some substance rather than just fill cyberspace with notes about life’s minor irritations.

That said, let’s take on the national media, just for fun.

Not long ago a "civilian" journalist posted a video of leaders at NPR making comments that were less than flattering to the GOP and the TEA Party. They suggested that conservatives and their ilk were racist, among other things.

The tape was made with a hidden camera (and for the record, a hidden microphone, as if that distinction is necessary). The "normal" or maybe I should say "regular" and certainly the "mainstream" media were outraged. These sort of ambushes were unethical by today’s standards and "real" journalists wouldn’t stoop to such levels...

Except for NBC News which once, to prove that the saddlebag gas tanks in Chevrolet pickups would explode in a collision put small rocket motors at the points of impact. They wanted to ensure that the gas tank would explode in a nice fiery display suitable for the evening news.

Except for ABC News that reported James Brady, the White House press secretary wounded in the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan had died. When it was learned that Brady was still alive, one of their anchors came on to tell us that they weren’t reporting rumors. They had verified their facts from three or four sources, which all sounded like good, solid reporting, except Brady HADN’T DIED. It makes no difference how many sources they had if the man was still alive.

Except for CBS News, which reported that they had documented evidence that George Bush hadn’t properly fulfilled his Air Guard obligation. Had they checked the documents, they would have learned they were bogus but they were too anxious to smear the President (and no, it doesn’t really matter what you thought of him, the news media should get the story straight before they broadcast it).

Except for NBC, again, which had been running sting operations to catch predators trolling the Internet for youngsters. These guys would show up and Chris Hansen would step out to ask them questions about what they thought they were doing. It all ended when one guy in Texas, about to be outed, shot himself.

Or how about all the stories about the Ford Pinto blowing up in rear end collisions because of the placement of the gas tank. The Des Moines Register ran a story headlined that suggested a woman had been killed in another Pinto accident... except the car hadn’t exploded. She had been thrown from the vehicle in a crash and died of her injuries. The car did not explode. That it was a Pinto was irrelevant. The headline was misleading, at best.

Or how about Peter Arnett, at one time a darling of the networks. He reported that the Viet Cong had invaded the American Embassy in Saigon during TET of 1968 but the story was inaccurate. While the Viet Cong did penetrate the perimeter walls of the grounds and did get onto the Embassy property, they did not get inside the building because of the bravery of the American Military Police guarding it.

Yes, a fine hair to split, but a reporter, a "war correspondent" ought to be able to figure that out and get the story right. This wasn’t his only mistake that has enter the cultural fabric of America thanks to Arnett.

He is also famous for quoting an American soldier who said that it was a shame they had to destroy the village to save it... except that wasn’t quite right either.

He reported on the siege at Ben Tre. The Viet Cong overran the city and isolated the American advisors in a small compound. The VC used captured artillery trying to kill or dislodge the advisors. Their shelling killed many civilians in the city. Major Phil Cannella led the group of advisors defending the small outpost.

Eventually, the Navy sent gunboats to assist Cannella and tanks and soldiers of the Army’s 9th ID broke the siege. The damage to the city had been done by the VC, not the Americans. Cannella, in talking to Arnett, made it clear that the Americans, in defending the city, had not inflicted the damage, but it was a shame that some of it was destroyed.

Arnett reported that Air Force major, Chester L. Brown, had said that it was a shame that some of the village had been destroyed trying to save it. The implication was that it was Americans who had done the damage. Arnett attributed the quote to the wrong man and let the incorrect implication slide.

How does all this relate to the topic here. It points out the hypocrisy of the media. They can use hidden cameras to expose cheating automobile mechanics and super markets that repackage out of date product, but let a hidden camera expose someone they like, such as NPR, and it becomes unethical.

"The tapes were edited," they scream.

"The whole story wasn’t broadcast," they claim.

And yet, that is exactly what they have done in the past. They have been caught in some wholly false stories and yet they sit in their smug newsrooms and condemn someone for doing exactly what they have been doing.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. There should be a strong press. There should be an outside watchdog on the government. But when that watchdog begins to lick the hand of one political agenda, then it has lost its way and its mandate.

So, I laugh at the press complaining about ethics. I laugh at the press for complaining about editing a story. I laugh at their discomfort in this story. Maybe they should take a look at themselves and see if they haven’t been guilty of a little bit of ethics violation themselves.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hubert Humphrey and Vietnam Bombing

I’ll tell you the one thing that makes my blood boil and that is politicians who feel they can say anything with impunity. They are not held accountable for some of their comments, unless, of course, they maligned a particular race, gender or sexual identity. If the only people affected are soldiers in the field, no one really cares...

If such is not the case, then explain how presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey could run for office and condemn the bombing that the Democratic Administration was carrying out during the Vietnam War and no one seemed to notice.

Yes, I know the war had turned unpopular by the time of the presidential campaign of 1968 but the point was that in 1968 (while I was actually serving in Vietnam, I might add), there were soldiers in the field. Their lives were on the line as they attempted to do what the government had asked them to do... or since this was 1968 and the draft still existed, forced them to do.

Anyway, Humphrey was running around campaigning and complaining about the bombing in Vietnam. But he called his boss, Lyndon Johnson and told him that he didn’t really mean it. His was just political rhetoric, appealing to a specific voting population, looking to be elected.

He apparently didn’t think about the soldiers in the field and what the reaction of them might be. Remember, in 1968, you had to be 21 to vote in an election and many, many of the soldiers in Vietnam were not 21. They were not a voting block to worry about.

Never mind that the bad guys in this, meaning the communists might be listening to him and believing him. Never mind that his statements might inspire them to hang on when they might otherwise have quit. Never mind that he was, basically, giving comfort to the enemy. He was running for office and he didn’t care what damage his words might have on the soldiers in the field. They wouldn’t vote for him anyway. In fact, many couldn’t.

What struck me was that no one in the media, when this conversation between Johnson and Humphrey came to light thought in terms of what consequences it might have had to those in the field. He wanted to be president and if a few soldiers died in Vietnam, well, that was the price.

In today’s world, it is even worse. Say something in Pennsylvania about not supporting the president’s war in Iraq, and the terrorists hear it immediately. They can watch it on the Internet. It can inspire them to new and bolder attacks on the men and women in uniform in those far off places. Say what you believe your voters want to hear because getting reelected is more important than the lives of some soldiers who probably aren’t even from your home district.

I once asked a peace demonstrator if she ever thought that the enemy might be listening and that her words might make the job of the soldiers more difficult and deadly. She said that such things weren’t her concern. Besides, they were all volunteers anyway. It’s not as if we drafted them.

Here’s the point, and it is one I attempted to make to the battalion commander as we sat in our tactical operations center (TOC) outside of Baghdad... you don’t say and do things that give aid to the enemy. The time to protest is before the soldiers are engaged... or to wait until they disengage. To protest after the war starts has consequences and unless you think about and understand those consequences in relation to the soldiers in the field, you ought to keep your mouth shut.

Yes, I know that this is a free country and we can say practically anything we want. But we can’t shout "Fire" in a crowded theater because there can be fatal consequences... and we shouldn’t say things about the war if we don’t understand how those statements will be interpreted by the enemy and how they affect the soldiers who are fighting it...

Maybe we should all pay a little more attention so we don’t end up with soldiers fighting in a war we might not like... but hey, I can’t think of a war that I would like. Sometimes it must be done...
And remember, we really didn’t start this one.