One 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. It 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.
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.
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.