Monday, January 22, 2007

Neo-neocon has an interesting post on her experience with the Psychology Today article on "fearful" conservatives and "rational" liberals. She was interviewed for this particular article and surprisingly, her interview was left out of the article. Perhaps she didn't tell the interviewer what they wanted to hear. I have this happen frequently. XYZ magazine, TV show, etc. calls me and asks my opinion on X and I give my unfiltered response--usually not what they want to hear--and the familiar, "We'll get back to you, uhh....real soon"-click is the typical reply. I have even been told by some shows that "we will just keep looking for someone who agrees with our point of view." "Good luck," I tell them. My feeling on most interviews etc. is that if I cannot say what I want or it will be edited to the point that I do not recognize my words, why do it?


Blogger geekWithA.45 said...


I guess such partisan bias is inevitable.

It was for this reason that my public gradeschool education specifically dealt with the topic of detecting and dealing with bias and propaganda.

I think it less a problem that folks would publish such obvious and transparent nonsense, and more of a problem that way too many people uncritically accept it.

It's also pretty plain to see how this sort of thing strokes people just the right way to gain another point of their mindshare. Their prejudices are confirmed with the color of authority, but even more important to them is the notion that their position is externally confirmed as the ascended/enlightened position.

And people just suck it all up, clueless as to how they're being played.


11:47 AM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once had a very minor, but similar, experience with a local sports reporter. I got interviewed for something, and gave my usual one-word answers to all the questions. The resulting article portrayed me as a super-jock and had me describing my own exploits as if I were the narrator in a Damon Runyon story. It was embarrassing. So my single experience with the press taught me that if reality doesn't agree with their agenda, they'll gladly rewrite it to suit. Or ignore it altogether.

A surveyor is just a reporter who uses Excel instead of Word.

There's a book called Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction, by Jon Franklin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. It tells you how to apply dramatic writing techniques to journalistic productions. That is, how to take a subject from the chaotic real world and impose upon it a beginning, middle, and end as well as a theme and conflict between a protagonist and antagonist. My copy includes three complete stories by Franklin with his analysis of each one. They are definitely riveting - I can see why the Pulitzers - but I imagine the people in the stories would have a hard time recognizing themselves or their actual situations. But that's apparently not important as long as the stories illustrate some greater...something or other.

You have to ask yourself: What's the story really about? Sure, on the surface it's just about a guy who collects beer cans. But your preternatural insight into the human condition (which you got by going to J-school) tells you it's really about Man's Inhumanity to Man. Yeah, that's it - that's the ticket...

Sorry for the digression, but I'm wondering if many journalists and other collectors of information share this idea - that their job is not to find out what is, but to find something greater than what is. Is there anything greater than what is? And who is a journalist (or essayist or surveyor) to answer that question? Why not your answer or mine?

This is why I'm trying really hard to get out of the wordsmithing biz. It's too easy to delude yourself that what you write is what is. When, in fact, it normally ain't.

1:42 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've stopped talking to journalists seeking interviews, unless I'm talking about my observation of an event. If I can tell them that a man ran out of a building on fire, flapped around, and then collapsed on the ground, fine. If they want my opinion on why he was on fire, no.

In my experience they pick the strangest quote out of the whole conversation and use it out of context. I am perfectly capable of convincing people I'm weird without help from the media.

3:43 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was the last comment posted by JAMIL HUSSEIN?

"If I can tell them that a man ran out of a building on fire, flapped around, and then collapsed on the ground, fine."

3:51 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger DRJ said...


That was really funny. Or as they apparently say in Knoxville, Heh.

4:09 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This subject has come up before, and what I've heard is that the editor and writer have pretty much agreed what the story is going to say before anyone even starts to work (which from a cost control point of view makes sense). The general bias is towards "seeing what you expect to see" with liberal bias as a consequence, because of the worldview of those doing the expecting.

There've been some recent journalistic "scandals" involving quotes made up out of whole cloth. Not being a ournalist myself, I don't see how that's really any worse than calling people until one of them happens to say what you want to hear, and them quoting them.

4:23 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It doesn't even have to necessarily be PARTISAN bias. Sometimes, it's just that they already know the article they plan to write, before they begin. And to satisfy their editors, they MUST have quotes. Now, if you've already written the story in your head, and your editors won't take the story from your head; you must have quotes from other people... what do you do next? You go out and get people to say stuff. Hopefully, you are clever enough to pose the questions so you get the answers you need to "flesh out" your story. You plug the quotes into your pre-conceived story, and you're good to go. That's why they seem to pick through your quotes; they need just a few to "make it human." Those are actual jschool terms, btw. Ever since Woodward and Bernstein, every jschool grad is tryin' to pull down a president. That means they are writing, essentially, essays with other people's words pulled into confirm the theories they pose in their essays.

4:25 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

US Army Iraq vet here - I was contacted by Richmond Magazine, in Richmond Virginia, upon returning from Iraq last fall. They wanted to interview returning veterans. I loved my experience over there and saw much improvement in Iraq while I was there. Naturally, 3 months later, when I read the printed story, the only veterans that made the printed article were all suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other physical and mental difficulties. The 99% of us who were positive about serving our country were never mentioned. Big surprise.

4:31 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger Purple Avenger said...

I don't give interviews. Been burned enough in the past being quoted out of context and such. The media are vipers.

The last thing I did even close was a video deposition as an expert witness in one of the various Microsoft lawsuits. The camera rolled and didn't stop until the end several hours later.

I'm also hesitant to handover a technical piece to an editor who won't give me final say on the text to be printed. I've had too many technically illiterate editors make "minor changes" that completely altered the meaning of some arcane stuff and made me look like I didn't know what I was talking about when the text I sent them was 100% dead on accurate.

4:33 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to do a lot of interviews on CNBC (I work in the securities industry) back in their formative years ('95-'96) regarding timely and topical stories of the day. After some months doing this, they came to me with story ideas that they wanted to do, using me as a kind of prop, or actor, in the piece, telling, or reinforcing the story they wanted to tell. Had similar experiences with finace & biz magazines. They saw at it as free publicity for me, I saw it as a form of prostitution, and haven't done any in years. As a result, I don't watch these shows, either.

4:54 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in college, an athlete on campus was (apparently falsely) accused of rape by what later proved to be a disgruntled ex-girlfriend. A reporter from the town of an opposing team was apparently cold-calling dorm rooms on campus and asking if we were afraid of the athletes. He continued to press the point and seemed incredulous that I, a female student, would not be afraid of roving bands of rapist athletes. I would imagine that my quote never made the paper.

4:58 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Anonymous 4:58:

That sounds about like the time I was running at the Reservoir in Central Park the day after the Central Park jogger was beaten and left for dead. The press was there asking the runners if we were afraid--most of us said no and kept running. It was a beautiful sunny day and as I jogged by the reporter talking into the camera, he was describing the terror we must all be feeling. I guess we just didn't know it...

5:05 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger geekWithA.45 said...

>>In my experience they pick the strangest quote out of the whole conversation and use it out of context.

OH! That reminds me of something!

During an ice storm about 10 years ago, I wound up being that night's "spun off the side of the road and into a ditch" poster boy for that evening's news.

They took lots of footage of my car in the ditch, interviewed me on camera, (Them: "Did you think you were going to DIE?" Me: "Not really, no") and also the wildly gesticulating, barely coherent bordeline maniac who had pulled up like 10 minutes after the accident. This guy was a literal nutcase. He didn't really offer to help, and he mainly seemed interested in waving his flashlight at passersby.

Guess which 2 of those 3 made airtime?

You betcha. My car in the ditch, and the nuthatch escapee.

5:08 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For research to be credible, one must start from scratch, collect information, and then draw conclusions. Not draw conclusions and subsequently find concurring information. It's the kind of mistake the high school students make when writing essays. The fact that journalists do it all the time shows their depth of professionalism and education.

5:09 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger John said...

Well, he was interviwed by Psychology Today -- hardly a paragon of serious journalism. Does anyone actually read that rag expecting objective analysis. Or even analysis instead of fanciful conjecture?

Now if this had happened at The National Inquirer, then Neo-Neocon would have grounds to object....

5:17 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I as well have a firm policy against speaking to the media. Sometimes, Dr. Helen, that liberal, freedom hating bastion of no-goodniks just can't handle people like us who tell it like it is!

5:20 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

There is another category of interview that has a more subtle manipulative effect -- the walk-by interview of the person-on-the-street.

Its power to influence public opinion was first apparent to me one time in the late 70's or early 80's. I was visiting a friend on the Duke campus.

The Duke administration had recently decided to eliminate what I believe was called the "Native Studies Program" for reasons that I don't remember, but it was fairly innocuous - lack of students or some such.

As I was walking across the campus I saw a nationally known correspondant ( I believe it was CBS, but am not sure)before a camera trying to button-hole students asking them for their opinion on the closure.

He would grab a student ask them what they thought. If they were not opposed to the closure, he would pull the mike back, turn 180 degree, and walk toward another student and repeat the sequence. I was surprised to notice that most of the students were indifferent, with most of the rest mildly in support of the admisistration. His persistance was rewarded after about 7-8 students, he found one that was upset about the closure.

As you can predict, that student was one of two on the evening news, and both of those interviewed were very upset with the closure. As a matter of fact the whole piece on the evening news was how upset the campus was because of the closure.

It is disquiting to realize how easy we are all manipulated, if someone in MSM wants to start a ground-swell of support for, or opposition to whatever President Bush wants to do.

5:43 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger JBlog said...

I've worked for and with the media for more than 20 years, and I can tell you from personal experience that this is the rule, not the exception.

Many times, I had an editor tell me to "go write about this." When I did the reporting and found out that it was not in fact "this" but rather "that," I would write "that" -- only to be told by the editor "that's not what I wanted you to write. I wanted you to write 'this.'"

Since then, as a PR manager, on many occasions I've had reporters approach me with a notion that was misleading, inaccurate or just plain wrong. When what I told them didn't square with their viewpoint, they just left it out.

"I want to do a story about job loss in the U.S. How many jobs has your company lost in the past year?"

"Actually, our employment is up, year over year."

", okay..."

Headline the next day: Job Loss Crisis in U.S.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, I suppose.

5:45 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever noticed that, when TV newsies go to a Right to Life demonstration, they go seek any goofy-looking MAN they can find who happens to be on the RTL side? Whereas when they go to the other side, they pick the most rational and well-spoken woman? It's almost as if NO woman would EVER be anti-abortion.

Me, I have my own, unique feelings on the topic, but the bias demonstrated by the newsies is anything but subtle.


6:06 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the correct thing to do is to record every conversation/contact with a reporter and post that record together with the reporter's name and the name of the publication.

6:10 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One time, The Bride of Monster was interviewed by a local TV station for a report on myasthenia gravis, and how it affects her life. The reporter also interviewed someone else, whose utterances apparently fit the narrative better; three words of what TBoM said actually made it to air.

6:27 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the semi-official press once known as the "Free Press" no longer exists. "

Of course it does. It's here on the Internet. And we need to do whatever it takes to keep it free.


8:55 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several years back, my wife and I were tapped to be one of three couples on a local news program taking an "in depth" look at conflict resolution in relationships. I forget why we were picked, presumable because my wife was 1) a well known relationship psychotherapist, 2) she was fighting breast cancer and 3) we were happily married. I guess that translated as we knew how to deal with conflict. This experience taught me, quite by accident, the secret to keeping my mug off of television. I gave long, thoughtful answers to the host's questions. When the piece aired, I appeared for all of 2 seconds and it was just me nodding in agreement to something someone else had said.

Not only do news types seem to want people who will corroborate the conclusions they've already reached, they want it in snappy sound bites.

9:17 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you know why Old Money did their best to keep their names out of the newspapers -- birth and wedding announcements and obituaries excepted.

There's nothing new about journalists spinning stories through brazenly selective quotation, but I do think in generations past there might have been more awareness of journalistic bias. Having multiple papers covering each town of any size, each paper having its own visible slant, highlighted the need to read *all* of the them critically.

9:53 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigh, I'm another one who has seen the light. Was military PR stationed in Ramstein, and we took a reporter along on a flight over Georgia (country--not state) to drop off food supplies to remote villages after a severe earthquake. We had been asked by the Russians at the time to do so since they couldn't respond at that time as quickly as we could to the region (height of glasnost time). So, off we go on a humanatarian mission to aid a former enemy--ripe story for a journalist to do well with.

What came out? A completly bogus story about our "clandestine spy mission over secret Russian bases" and the "mysterious cargo" we dropped to "parties unknown". OK, I grant MRE's might be classified as mysterious but they are food...and the mission was in broad daylight....anyhow, just came to realize that journalist rank somewhere far below ambulance chasing lawyers and used car salesman in the lack of ethics and bald face lying mindset.

10:12 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger B. Durbin said...

I took a degree in broadcasting— long story, but the short version ends with "and I got to play with cool equipment." The bits that might have been illuminating weren't particularly surprising. Journalism students are largely like the vast majority of college students: not interested in expending any particular effort beyond the minimum.

However, if you become a journalist, and you have a modicum of writing talent, that laziness can be entirely ignored since it has no direct bearing on the "quality" of the final product. Truthfulness and accuracy, yes. But if the editor is only bothering to look at the beauty of the written word, then truthfulness and accuracy are secondary. I encourage people to take a few courses in media, however, since Advertising 101 or its equivalent is a good primer in how the media can manipulate your feelings.

There were a few people in my various classes who were interested in doing more than the minimum. For the most part, that's where the technicians come from...

10:27 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the correct thing to do is to record every conversation/contact with a reporter and post that record together with the reporter's name and the name of the publication.

Actually I think that's pretty good advice. I've never been interviewed, but if I were, that would be the procedure I'd follow. Oh, that and tape-record everything.

1:00 AM, January 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Outcome based journalism.

7:27 AM, January 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, they don't even try to hide it any more. A couple of years ago, I received an email forwarded through an organization I belong to.

It asked for a [organization's focus] woman who was [other factor] and had been in conflicts with her mother about it.

Obviously the story had already been written, and the reporter was just looking for 'proof'.


8:33 AM, January 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the most pernicious practice has gone unmentioned: public opinion surveys sponsored - and therefore controlled - by the media. They are literally manufacturing the news themselves.

10:08 AM, January 23, 2007  
Blogger Steve Dores said...

I was given the job of dealing with the press when I worked for a large corporation.

In my experience, the closer you are to the facts of a story, the more difficulty you will
have recognizing that story when it is published.

Never mind the bias, some of those "investigative reporters" (as opposed to what?) are just not very bright.

4:17 PM, January 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Journalism students are largely like the vast majority of college students: not interested in expending any particular effort beyond the minimum."

My J-school profs were tough graders but when I graded grammar/usage students I noticed that the broadcast majors were the pits. They invariably start out at our local TV stations as news readers, and their copy is atrocious, they don't seem to understand what they are saying and can't pronounce the names.

Of course, small town local TV is the home of stupid young news babes and ugly old guys.

5:41 PM, January 24, 2007  
Blogger Purple Avenger said...

the closer you are to the facts of a story, the more difficulty you will
have recognizing that story when it is published.

Amen brother.

Being on the inside at IBM Boca (and Borland for a while) in the 80's and 90's had me just shaking my head at some of the stuff I'd read in PC Week, InfoWorld, etc.

They'd print drivel that was laughably absurd from a technical POV and report it in the most somber tone.

Larry Seltzer would call me occasionally about gory technical stuff that he wasn't up to speed on, but he's the only one I know who called anyone within IBM who wasn't playing an angle when they did.

Zachman has his own CIS forum and we'd exchange specifice there, so he wasn't too far off base most of the time.

Machrone, Dvorak, and the rest? Fuggadaboutit ;-> The printed Alice in Wonderland stuff.

4:17 AM, January 26, 2007  
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