CBS Manipulates the News

CBSOne of the most important lessons I learned at college did not come in a classroom.

In the newsroom of The Harvard Crimson, I was taught that journalism demanded impartiality and a near-religious adherence to accuracy and truth. We put out the college paper six days a week, and every published story was pasted into the “Comment Book” where other Crimson editors (“Crimeds”) were encouraged to challenge every sentence for grammar, syntax, style, but most of all…for misstatement, ambiguity, prejudice, unattributed opinion, and just plain error. Harvard CrimsonIt was merciless, but it created a newsroom culture that educated and guided generations of excellent journalists: David Halberstam, Hendrik Hertzberg, Anthony Lewis, J. Anthony Lukas, Frank Rich, Steven V. Roberts, and scores of others.

One would assume that all reputable news organizations would adopt the same code of conduct.

Not CBS.

On July 22, CBS Evening News aired an interview of John McCain conducted by Katie Couric. Among her questions to McCain was, “Senator Obama says…there might have been increased security even without the surge. What’s your response to that?”

Watch McCain’s response in the video below. CBS edited out his actual reply and inserted an answer he gave to a completely different query.

[youtube zYaXr03vtNE CBS-McCain Interview]

Is it just coincidence that the answer CBS excised was factually incorrect? CBS News Senior Vice President Paul Friedman cleared it all up:

“The report was edited under extreme time constraints and one piece of tape was put in the wrong order. Fortunately, this did not in any way distort what Senator McCain was saying.”

Was there distortion? Definitely. Friedman is trying to put lipstick on a pig.Paul Friedman

McCain’s actual answer was to accuse Obama of “a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history.”

But CBS showed viewers McCain saying, “Senator Obama has indicated by his failure to acknowledge the success of the surge that he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.”

McCain’s actual answer was not “just a matter of history.” He got the history wrong. The Anbar Awakening occurred in 2006, months before the surge began in March 2007. It appears that CBS, cognizant of McCain’s recent gaffe about trouble on the “Iraq-Pakistan border” (which doesn’t exist), decided to distort the truth…and clean up his latest miscue.

Irrespective of the validity McCain’s calendrical pronouncement, CBS has arrogated to itself the right to judge what the public should hear and see. We all know that editing takes place; we do not know what gets left out. Reportage by omission. One hopes it is done without “distorting” the truth. But to create an answer in place of a different answer is nothing less than a lie.

CBS should be ashamed. In Japan, this would warrant seppuku.

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11 Comments on “CBS Manipulates the News

  1. Frightening to think, but I bet this happens on the news a lot more than we know.

    McCain is just frightening, period.

  2. Well, afterall, it is CBS. No surprises there! I’m sure Olbermann would agree with you, Steve, as I do. Nice comment. Say hi to my sis

  3. The NY Times arrogates to itself the right to see and judge what the pulic should see and hear every day. Did I mention Olberman is pathetic?

  4. Steve,
    I agree that what CBS did is outrageous. Yet it appears to me that it’s just one more egregious act in a long record of distortions/suppressions/omissions.

    What do you think is the most effective action we can take? Boycott CBS/its advertisers? Call the head honchos at CBS? Complain to our Congressional representatives?

    Glad to see you blogging. I gave it up so I’d have more time and energy for taking care of my twin grandchildren, now a year and a half old.


  5. Several people have emailed me expressing wonder that a news organizations spun for a Republican conservative. Implicit in this is the belief that the media are left-leaning.

    Why should and could the media be left-leaning when five huge corporations (Time/Warner, NewsCorp, GE, Disney, and Viacom) control everything Americans see? These are not leftist organizations.

    What appears as a left-leaning slant is actually a concerted and clever attempt to garner better ratings. Guys like Sumner Redstone and Rupert Murdoch (two hard-right plutocrats) are not stupid. They want the eyeballs of the great mass of Americans. The common folk consume more cars, beer, and fast food than the rich. Ratings demand catering to the majority.

    If there is a definite bias in the media, it is not (except for Fox News) a political bias. It is a bias toward profit.

  6. I’m not surprised by the right-ward spin at all. What I am surprised at is that there are still people out there who think ‘W’ has done a heckuva job.

    Oh, and “seppuku: n. Ritual suicide by disembowelment formerly practiced by Japanese samurai. Also called hara-kiri.” (from American Heritage Dictionary)

  7. Michael–

    Of course the New York Times is not guiltless. But as a news organization, they should be. That’s precisely my point.

  8. Thanks for bringing this egregious episode to my attention. We need more people to defend the truth and protect the news.

  9. No surprise here. Network TV has been an irresponsible source of news ever since they discovered what a cash cow it is. There was a time when TV news was a “public service,” back in the Dark Ages I think it was.

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