Just Above Sunset
October 3, 2004 - Fair and Balanced, and Quite Often Mistaken

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Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been all over this story.  It seems that Fox News on October 1 posted a retraction and apology for the piece with a whole bunch of fabricated Kerry quotes.


… FOXNews.com posted an item purporting to contain quotations from Kerry. The item was based on a reporter’s partial script that had been written in jest and should not have been posted or broadcast. We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice.



Here’s some of it -


Rallying supporters in Tampa Friday, Kerry played up his performance in Thursday night's debate, in which many observers agreed the Massachusetts senator outperformed the president.

"Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!" Kerry said Friday.

With the foreign-policy debate in the history books, Kerry hopes to keep the pressure on and the sense of traction going.

Aides say he will step up attacks on the president in the next few days, and pivot somewhat to the domestic agenda, with a focus on women and abortion rights.

"It's about the Supreme Court. Women should like me! I do manicures," Kerry said.

Kerry still trails in actual horse-race polls, but aides say his performance was strong enough to rally his base and further appeal to voters ready for a change.

"I'm metrosexual — he's a cowboy," the Democratic candidate said of himself and his opponent.

A "metrosexual" is defined as an urbane male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.


You get the idea.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, comments -


How odd. The quotes weren't all that funny, which may be why HQ didn't get the joke and passed it along as the real thing. This kind of thing is an old journalism taboo that this Fox reporter apparently never learned: Never create fake copy as a joke assuming it won't leave the newsroom, since too often it will do just that.

At NBC, I remember a few of us desk assistants typing up a fake wire story on multicopy wire paper, also retouching a photo that came off the photofax, and hanging it up on the main newsroom bulletin board. It was during the first orbit of the moon, with some photos being transmitted back from space. Our "story" quoted (I think) Frank Borman announcing that he and his fellow astronauts had noticed some odd space objects on the far side of the moon, one of which "appeared to be either a cow, or the carcass of one," and the other "looked to be a bathtub with three men sitting in it."

We were pretty sure everyone would get the joke, especially after they flipped the story up and looked at the photo underneath, with was an actual moon photo altered to show an upside down cartoon cow, with X's for eyes, and a cartoon bathtub with what looked sort of like Snap, Crackle and Pop, smiling and waving at the camera in unison. It was pretty funny.

Anyway, just to make it kosher, I first showed it to the news manager on duty (I'm pretty sure his name was [withheld]); he just quickly glanced at it and nodded me away. I was sort of disappointed that he didn't think it was funny. But about an hour later, while he was typing up his shift duty log, he called me over and asked if anything else had moved on the wires on that space object story! He was not at all amused when I told him the truth.

About a year later, at AP Photos, some of us typed up a phony caption, attached it to a real news photo, and put it on the supervisor's desk along with others being filed. A few minutes later, he came over and ripped us all new orifices and told us this sort of thing is NEVER done in a newsroom, since very now and then one moves on the wires, and even printed in newspapers, and supervisors lose jobs.

(By the way, his name was Spencer Jones, who later became AP's LA Bureau Chief; Bob Patterson worked with him and can probably tell you stories about him.)


Well, Fox News clearly has little use for John Kerry, and now you know that Carl Cameron, the reporter in question, according to Fox spokesman Paul Schur, Fox's “chief political correspondent” likes to make fun of him.  Carl Cameron has been reprimanded, according to Fox, but will stay in place.

It does make you wonder about the objectivity of the nation’s most popular cable news source.  Now that the bias is even clearer, perhaps their ratings will soar even higher.  Folks do love to hate John Kerry.

Rick and I have gone around a few times on this topic of objectivity and fairness in news reporting, most recently here in late August (see the section THE PRESS) - with additional comments from Ric Erickson in Paris, another who knows the details of being a working journalist.  A lot of that discussion centered on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth reporting.

So how does someone report objectivly, over and above avoiding filing stories that mock the candidate your employer despises (and you do too)?

Rick suggests I draw your attention to this short interview at “Campaign Desk” – the website of the Columbia Journalism Review.  This is an interview with Michael Kinsley, the founder of SLATE.COM who this summer took over as the man in charge of the editorial pages of the local Los Angeles Times out here.

See The Water Cooler
October 01, 2004: Michael Kinsley on Slate vs. the L.A. Times, Calling a Lie a Lie, and Opinion Journalism as Indulgence

Excerpt -


… What's the biggest problem with campaign journalism right now - particularly what appears on page A1?

MK: The biggest problem is - and I don't know what the solution is, so it's not a criticism, as much as it is a puzzle - is that the conventions of objectivity make it very difficult to say that something is a lie. And they require balance, which is often just not justified by reality. The classic thing is the Swift Boats. If you follow what all the papers say, they inch close to saying what they really think by saying, "it's controversial," or "many have challenged it," euphemisms like that. And then they always need to pair it with something else. "Candidate X murdered three people at a rally yesterday, and candidate Y sneezed without using a Kleenex. This is why many people are saying this is the roughest campaign ever."


So Kinsley is puzzled.  A group of people presents an array of outrageous bullshit denigrating a fellow who won lots of medals for valor and bravery and all that, and say, well, they weren’t exactly there, but they don’t believe any of that bravery stuff, even if the people who were actually there say it happened because those who were there actually saw it, and got to live another day because the guy was brave.  So they say we have no direct knowledge of this stuff, but we believe everyone, including the Navy who awarded the medals, is probably lying.  All you can report is that this is controversial?  I guess.  Be fair to both sides.  Be balanced.  As Rick said back in August, the real problem with "fair and balanced," of course, is that liars have an advantage.

But still, Fox News needs to tighten up just a bit, no matter how biased they want to be.  You have to make at least some minimal gesture feigning objectivity.  You have to at least pretend to be a news organization with reporters who dig up the facts about what's happening.

See this: Some Voters Still Flip-Flopping
Saturday, October 02, 2004
Jane Roh

If you scroll down in the Fox News story you’ll find this on a group called Communists for Kerry – (my emphases)


Of course, there were some Kerry supporters in attendance who had no doubts whatever about their candidate.

"We're trying to get Comrade Kerry elected and get that capitalist enabler George Bush out of office," said 17-year-old Komoselutes Rob of Communists for Kerry.

"Even though he, too, is a capitalist, he supports my socialist values more than President Bush," Rob said, before assuring FOXNews.com that his organization was not a parody group. When asked his thoughts on Washington's policy toward Communist holdout North Korea, Rob said: "The North Koreans are my comrades to a point, and I'm sure they support Comrade Kerry, too."

It is unclear whether the Kerry campaign has welcomed the Communists' endorsement.


So Fox breaks the news that there is a group of American communists for Kerry.  Wow!

But before they went with the story Fox News actually could have done some basic research on these of folks, these Communists for Kerry, as Atrios did -


"Communists for Kerry" is a campaign of the Hellgate Republican Club, a tax exempt non-partisan public advocacy "527" organization that exists for the purpose of;

"Informing voters with satire and irony, how political candidates make decisions based on the failed social economic principles of socialism that punish the individual by preventing them from becoming their dream through proven ideas of entrepreneurship and freedom."

Our members help elect candidates who support economic growth through Entrepreneurship, limited government and lower taxes. Communists For Kerry is separate and distinct from the Communist party of America and any of its organization. None of it's members are members of any communist organizations.


That’s from their website.  Fox News took their assurance the organization was not a parody group, and didn’t look them up.  Oh well.
The story will no doubt be corrected later, and another apology offered.

Somewhere Dan Rather of CBS, his career in tatters now, is smiling grimly.  And Fox is working up their position statement – Yes, we got caught twice, in the span of twenty-four hours, broadcasting outright lies undermining a presidential candidate, but at least we’re not CBS.

Really.  They are not.



Addendum from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –


Late breaking news: FOXNews.com has slightly rewritten that story, and has added this disclaimer at the end:


Editor’s Note:


In a version of this article that was published earlier, the Communists for Kerry group was portrayed as an organization that was supporting John Kerry for president.  FOXNews.com’s reporter asked the group’s representative several times whether the group was legitimate and supporting the Democratic candidate, and the spokesman insisted that it was.  The Communists for Kerry group is, in fact, a parody organization.


PS: I suppose I should have somehow worked in something about Fox's doing a flip-flop, but I don't have the time to be clever right now.


Comment from Just Above Sunset


So they asked these folks several times if they were kidding, if they were pranksters, and were told no, they were the real thing.  Honest, they were.  Aren’t reporters supposed to check their sources – you know, do a bit of digging?  That was Dan Rather’s problem, wasn’t it?  Why is it not Fox’s problem?  “We were assured that….” 


Sorry, that just doesn’t cut it. 


What prompted the Fox reporter to ask that question several times, and then, what prompted that same Fox reporter, in spite of her skepticism, to then just take their word for it?  Was she just being sloppy and this was an unfortunate lapse?  Fox doesn’t believe that about Rather over at CBS, as they think (and scowl) that he has an agenda, to bring down Bush.  What are we to think here?


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Paris readers add nine hours....