Archive for the ‘Media Analysis’ Category
The mainstream media have a sad track record of labeling innocent people as murderers.
Just last month, several news organizations named the wrong man in the Navy Yard shootings. The New York Post identified the wrong Boston Marathon bombers. Many news outlets reported that Adam Lanza’s innocent brother was the Newtown school shooter.
But one name symbolizes the media’s rush to judgment more than any other: Richard Jewell.
Jewell was the Georgia security guard who discovered a backpack filled with explosives at the Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He notified police, who began clearing the area—but the explosives detonated before the area could be cleared, killing one person and injuring more than 100.
Many news organizations named Jewell as a suspect. He was later exonerated. But his life was never the same, and he died at the early age of 44 in 2007.
Retro Report released a terrific look back at his case today, which shows the high personal cost of the media’s too-frequent rush to judgment. It’s worth watching.
I’m finally on Google+. Here’s the link if you’d like to connect there!
Tags: media analysis, Retro Report, Richard Jewell
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I’ve seen a lot of biased, ill-informed, and journalistically lazy interviews through the years, and this one was one of the worst. But the author who was the target of the anchor’s ire stood up to her questions well—and, in part due to his deft handling of that interview, currently has Amazon’s top-selling book.
Writer Reza Aslan—a prolific author who holds a Ph.D. in the sociology of religion—appeared on the Fox News Channel to discuss his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.
Fox News anchor Lauren Green went into the interview clearly skeptical of the book—less for its content, about which she was clearly unfamiliar—but because Aslan is Muslim. And a Muslim writing about Jesus was just too much for her to take.
I haven’t read Aslan’s book; therefore, I’m unable to judge its content or objectivity. Perhaps Aslan’s critics have legitimate criticisms of his work. But Ms. Green’s agenda-driven questions didn’t shine a light on them in an illuminating manner.
Her entire premise was flawed, arguing that a Muslim couldn’t possibly write an objective history of Jesus. That’s a specious argument, one that would logically also preclude the possibility that a Christian could write fairly about Judaism. And although religion and race isn’t the same, her logical construct isn’t a far leap from suggesting that a white historian couldn’t write fairly about a black civil rights leader or that an African American couldn’t write about George Washington. Exploring a writer’s motivation is one thing; dismissing his work without careful inspection is quite another.
Instead of focusing on the book’s content and taking issue with specific points, Green read a series of quotes from people who didn’t like the book. But instead of relying on a neutral third party critic, the first quote came from…wait for it…FoxNews.com! Get that? She may as well have said, “I’d like to read you a quote from an article written by someone who contributes to the same news organization for which I work. He magically has the same premise I do, and I’d like to use it to attack you.”
But the biggest jaw-dropper came at the end of the interview, when Green asked Aslan why he tried to hide his religious identify from the public. “It’s on page two of my book!” retorted a surprised Aslan, proving that Green hadn’t done even the slightest bit of research before their conversation.
Since this is primarily a media training blog, here are four lessons you can learn from Reza Aslan if you’re ever the target of a biased media interview.
1. He looked reasonable. No matter how offensive Ms. Green’s questions became, Aslan maintained the high ground and kept his cool. When challenged, Mr. Aslan described his bona fides and invited viewers to review his book’s 100 pages of end notes. His reasonableness, contrasted with host’s badly prepared questions, made him look better the longer the interview continued.
2. He conceded the obvious. When Ms. Green confronted him by saying many scholars disagreed with his work, he didn’t deny the charge—he embraced it. Such is the nature of academic debate, he pointed out, before reminding Green that many scholars agreed with him, too.
3. He corrected the anchor’s flawed premise. When the host asked Aslan “Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?” he responded to that flabbergasting question calmly by saying, “Because it’s my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion…It’s unfair to assume that because of my particular faith background, that there is some agenda on this book.”
4. He pushed back—but not too quickly. After being asked the same question numerous times, Aslan politely pushed back, saying, “I think it’s strange that rather than debating the arguments of the book, we’re debating the right of the scholar to write it.”
In the end, Aslan proves a point I make frequently on this blog—that tough questions should be regarded as gifts that allow you to demonstrate your competence. His calm, competent handling of her loaded questions convinced many people that he deserved a fair hearing—as proven by landing at the top of Amazon’s bestsellers list.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Fox News Channel, Lauren Green, religion, Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
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Journalism just lost one of its most dynamic and dedicated stars.
Veteran reporter Helen Thomas died on Saturday at the age of 92. A pioneer for women in journalism, she was the first woman to cover the president and not just the First Lady; the first female president of the White House Correspondents Association; and, above all, a no-nonsense reporter who fired tough questions at every president who has served since John F. Kennedy. In short, she was a force.
But I’ll remember her for a different reason.
A long time ago, Helen Thomas sat down with a group of high school kids visiting Washington, D.C. – myself included — who wanted to be reporters. She talked to us about the profession and her experience. I was star-struck, inspired, and excited to pursue a career in journalism.
Upon her death, the president of the White House Correspondents Association said that “women and men who’ve followed in the press corps all owe a debt of gratitude for the work Helen did and the doors she opened.” But I’d go a step further and say we can learn a lot from Ms. Thomas when it comes to paving the way for young people starting their professional lives.
That small amount of time Ms. Thomas gave us — gave me — made a big difference in my life, and for that, I’m grateful. I’m also reminded how important mentoring is.
I certainly didn’t make it through my journalism career without a lot of gracious help and guidance from people who had been in the profession longer than me. I was fortunate to start my career in Washington D.C. surrounded by some of the best news professionals in the business, and I still employ their lessons in my work today.
Even small efforts, like having coffee with an entry-level employee to talk about career paths, or writing a glowing recommendation for a deserving intern, or speaking to a classroom of young children about what you do, can make a huge difference in a life. Don’t miss your opportunity to positively influence the future of your profession, just like Helen did for journalism.
Tags: Helen Thomas, journalism
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Attorney General Eric Holder is meeting with bureau chiefs from major news outlets this week for off-the-record sessions. They’re discussing the recent revelations that the Department of Justice seized phone records from Associated Press reporters and investigated Fox News reporter James Rosen for his reporting of sensitive leaked government information.
Not everybody is playing ball – as of this writing, The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Huffington Post, CNN and McClatchy will not attend as long as the session remains off the record.
This isn’t the first time the Obama Administration has been in the news for its controlling policies when it comes to dealing with the media. Just last summer, The New York Times reported on the practice of political press officers having final approval on quotes used in stories in exchange for access to top campaign officials. Of course, trying to control the media by restricting access is not exclusive to the Obama administration — but each successive recent Administration seems to be moving toward increasingly stricter controls.
As a former journalist, I find that these off-the-record meetings continue a dangerous trend regarding the media’s dealings with this Administration. This Department of Justice issue affects the news media itself and, as the point of a free press is to shine a light on government and its actions, should be discussed openly. Furthermore, from a communications standpoint, I’m not sure this serves to reassure the public that the Obama administration is committed to press freedoms.
MSNBC’s Morning Joe hosted a great debate on the topic this morning featuring top journalists and former politicians. The clip is a bit long at 22 minutes, but I suggest you take the time to watch it anyway. In it, Ron Fournier, the Editorial Director of the National Journal and former Washington Bureau Chief for the Associated Press voiced his concerns about the meeting, saying:
“Off the record in Washington means it’s a secret. It means even if… If you show me pictures of a senator with sheep, I can’t do anything with it… I’m not a priest. My job is to report what is happening. So why would I want to be a part of…meeting with a bunch of other journalists on a topic this important that is a secret. And the high irony here is that the Attorney General who’s been snooping on our news organizations wanted us to keep his secret.”
Outlets participating in the meeting cited the common practice of off-the-record conversations between journalists and sources. Politico’s Editor in Chief John Harris said in an email:
“As editor in chief, I routinely have off-the-record conversations with people who have questions or grievances about our coverage or our newsgathering practices. I feel anyone–whether an official or ordinary reader–should be able to have an unguarded conversation with someone in a position of accountability for a news organization when there is good reason.”
What lessons can communications professionals take from this?
1. Be wary of off-the-record agreements. Even if the agreement is honored, it may be reported that your organization insisted on an off-the-record situation, making it look like you have something to hide.
2. Off-the-record may affect your relationship with reporters. Many reporters resent this culture of off the record in straightforward situations. This agreement should be used sparingly.
3. Just because the Obama administration gets away with off-the-record demands to some degree doesn’t mean you will. Access to the President and top administration officials is necessary for political journalists to do their job. Access to your organization probably doesn’t rate with journalists quite as high.
Want more media analysis and training tips? Follow me on Twitter @PMRChristina!
Tags: Associated Press, cnn, Eric Holder, Fox News, James Rosen, John Harris, media analysis, Morning Joe, msnbc, New York Times, off the record, Politico, working with reporters
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CNN is yet again being criticized for misreporting a major news story.
This time, the network claimed that a suspect had been arrested in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing. After the FBI issued a stern rebuke, the occasional news network backed away from the story. (Others got the story wrong as well, but CNN’s mistakes were made with particular panache.)
BuzzFeed did a wonderful job of capturing CNN’s awful hour of reporting here.
Below are a few other high-profile examples of mainstream media outlets getting a major story wrong.
In December 2012, after the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, many news outlets wrongly identified the shooter as Adam Lanza’s brother, Ryan. Lanza’s mother was also widely reported to have been a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School; she wasn’t. Many news outlets also misreported the type of gun used in the attack.
In June 2012, both CNN and the Fox News Channel misreported the Supreme Court’s decision regarding President Obama’s health care law, as the screenshots below show.
In 2011, many news organizations misreported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died. According to Poynter.org:
“Organizations such as NPR, Reuters, Fox News, CBS, CNN and the Huffington Post sent out tweets or distributed other reports declaring Giffords dead. The New York Times’ website briefly reported her dead as well.”
In 2004, The New York Post splashed John Kerry’s Vice Presidential choice on its front page: “Dem picks (Dick) Gephardt,” blared the headline. Except he didn’t. John Edwards got the nod.
In 2000, CNN reported that Al Gore had won Florida.
In 1981, President Reagan’s spokesperson, James Brady, was declared dead by news networks after being hit by one of John Hinkley’s bullets. He’s still alive.
Remember President Thomas E. Dewey? In 1948, The Chicago Tribune named him the winner of the presidential election. He wasn’t. Harry Truman was elected to a full term.
These are just a few examples – the list of incorrect media stories could include hundreds of others.
I think it’s reasonable to conclude that breaking news coverage is broken. I no longer trust the first wave of reporting on the cable news channels. In the rush to be first, they too often blow the story, or at least critical parts of the story.
We should be skeptical when reporters rely upon the wording “sources said.” Yes, anonymous sources are often reliable. But as we’ve seen from these high-profile examples, they’re too often wrong. And we, as viewers, have no way of determining the credibility of those anonymous sources. That has always been so, but in light of these major and recurring mistakes, it’s more so now than ever before.
From now on, I’m inclined to wait until law enforcement officials confirm stories publicly before fully believing them. You probably should too.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Boston Marathon, cnn, Fox News Channel, Gabrielle Giffords, Harry Truman, James Brady, media analysis, Newtown shooting
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I received an email from Australia-based reader Tim Horan about an op-ed piece he submitted to the Sydney Morning Herald, one of his nation’s most-read newspapers.
Tim works for the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, an advocacy group that represents the interests of shooters (the group supports much stricter gun safety laws than the National Rifle Association.)
“Obviously every newspaper around the world retains editorial control and can make changes. Usually this is done where something is incorrect, (due to) poor writing skills, or just due to lack of space. Yesterday, the large national organization I work for sent an op-ed to one of Australia’s largest newspapers. They came back to us and said they would only run it if they could make some changes. 182 entirely new words (original article was just over 600)! Entire new paragraphs, new quotes, new statistics … I was stunned! This was, after all, an opinion piece!”
Tim says the changes were dramatic:
“These changes included adding entirely new paragraphs of text, making several tired puns (such as ‘shoot from the hip’) and, possibly worse of all, changing the word ‘firearm’ to ‘weapons’.”
I’ve never experienced anything like that; nor have I heard of such dramatic intervention by a newspaper editorials editor. A more typical experience was one I had years ago with the Los Angeles Times, which had agreed to take an op-ed from the group I worked with at the time. The paper’s editor called me to discuss the piece—they had a few words they wanted to tweak and wanted to clarify a few facts. Our phone call enhanced my view of them—they asked reasonable questions, requested few changes, and wanted to make sure we got it right.
I thought there was a chance that Tim’s editorial was poorly written, necessitating the newspaper to insist upon a major overhaul. But it’s not. It looks like every other op-ed you’d see published in a major, big city newspaper. You can see the unedited op-ed here.
In the end, Tim “made the decision that we couldn’t agree to the changes, so we withdrew the article.” Sounds like a smart decision to me.
I asked the Sydney Morning Herald editor who worked on this piece for comment last Monday. She didn’t respond.
What do you think? Have you ever experienced this type of editorial interference? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below.
Tags: media relations tips, Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, Tim Horan, working with reporters
Posted in Media Analysis | 6 Comments »
In my review of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, I noted that Armstrong seemed to fit the classic profile of a sociopath.
To my eye, he appeared to be a pathological liar who lacks remorse, is manipulative and superficially charming, and who fails to take responsibility for his actions. But he showed emotion on the second night of the interview, which made me wonder whether my original analysis was correct.
Reader Mary Fletcher Jones, owner of the Virginia-based public relations firm Fletcher Prince, says that I was.
“You hit the nail on the head, Brad. Sociopath. Classic case. The only reason why I know that for sure after watching the interview is because of the books and articles I have read about sociopathy, and the surprisingly consistent way they express themselves and handle challenges like this. It helps them get to the top, but they also have spectacular falls, when there is this collective “oh my god” realization of people realizing the extent of their…illness? Deviance? I have yet to figure out if this is a character defect, a mental imbalance, or a combination of both. At least, it is possible to say: yup, that’s it! That’s helpful to all of us, because we’re bound to encounter a Lance Armstrong in our own lives one day, and at least this interview will help us recognize him or her.
He has a functional inability or significant impairment to experience guilt in the way most of us understand it. Anyone can appear cool and reserved on television but there is a difference. Sociopaths lie, and lie well, and they do not feel shame about it. They do not have the same physiological responses to lying as other people. They have an impaired ability to feel as other people might, empathy. They fail to take responsibility or recognize the consequences of their actions. They don’t show anguish over what they have done. You can see this in taped murder confessions — there is the same detachment.
I think Oprah did us all a service by recording this interview that goes WAY beyond any interest we might have in the integrity of professional bike racing.
Sociopaths can have feelings for their family members and other people. I know that caused you some doubt when Lance talked about his family in the interview. They can express pride and affection, for example. But it’s a different kind of relationship and there are other troubling aspects to it. For example, they typically aren’t good caregivers when family members are ill, becoming distant, detached, seemingly uncaring, or even angry.
One scenario of how a sociopathic father relates to his wife and daughter is explained in The Sociopath Next Door. Anyone who listened or observed this man (I believe he was a university administrator) would feel he loved his family and was just like anyone else, and it wasn’t until an event happened that the daughter realized how sociopathic her father really was.
Sociopaths snow virtually everyone, even family members, because we are wired to think of people thinking and reacting as we do.”
I don’t profess to have the expertise to diagnose a sociopath, but everything I’ve read confirms that Mary’s conclusion is correct. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments, Mary!
Finally, I try to stay away from “question mark journalism,” in which I throw out a question (“Is Lance Armstrong a sociopath?”) without having the evidence to answer it conclusively. But in this case, Armstrong was confronted directly with that term by Oprah Winfrey during the interview. He didn’t deny the charge.
Click here to see my full review of the Lance Armstrong – Oprah Winfrey interview, including video of one key exchange.
Tags: communications analysis, Lance Armstrong
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If you’re a woman trying to win this season’s American Idol (season 12 debuts on Fox tonight), I have bad news for you. The past five years suggest it’s not going to happen. If you’re a man—but African American, Hispanic, or Asian—same goes for you. The program’s recent history suggests you’re going to lose.
That’s good news for adorable, guitar-strumming white guys, who get a bonus point if they have just a touch of non-threatening facial stubble.
The past five seasons of American Idol have each rendered a predictable winner—but not necessarily the most talented or marketable singer. And that creates a problem for Idol’s producers, who are trying to keep the flagging franchise propped up for at least another season.
Here’s the succession of white guy winners and their sales history since winning the show:
Season 7: David Cook: His debut album sold more than 1.5 million copies. But his 2011 follow-up sold just 130,000 and failed to produce a hit.
Season 8: Kris Allen: His sophomore album, released in May 2012, sold just 23,000 copies.
Season 9: Lee DeWyze: His debut album sold just 149,000 copies and failed to produce a hit.
Season 10: Scotty McCreery: McCreery’s first album, Clear as Day, has sold 1.1 million copies—a relative success, but still less than David Cook’s debut album.
Season 11: Philip Phillips: Phillips’s album has sold more than 300,000 copies since its November debut. He also had a huge hit single, “Home,” which sold more than 2.9 million copies and hit the top ten. Phillips, along with McCreery, appears to be best positioned for long-term success.
Idol’s ratings are dropping fast—last year’s finale was its lowest-rated ever. Yes, the show is facing new competition from other popular singing shows, but I can’t help thinking that Idol is suffering from its predictability. Reality shows missing a sense of “anything can happen” are simply less interesting to watch.
Last May, I offered producers the following three tips to shake things up:
1. Change The Voting Formula: I suspect that as the show has aged, it’s viewing demographic has narrowed. (As an example, I almost never see the 2,200+ people I follow on Twitter discussing results). Idol can use the same voting formula that The Voice uses; the public gets a 50 percent share of the vote, and the judges get another 50 percent.
2. The Judges Can…Well, Judge: The judges – Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler – are nice. Too nice. By complimenting even mediocre performances and pairing critical feedback with undeserved praise, the viewing audience isn’t able to use the judge’s reactions as a voting guide. They should offer unsparing feedback, audience boos and hurt feelings be damned. (Note: this year’s judging panel has three new arrivals: Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, and Nikki Minaj. Randy Jackson remains.)
3. More Jimmy Iovine, Please: Idol mentor Jimmy Iovine is a legendary music producer who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and U2. He tells contestants exactly what he thinks. The problem? Idol doesn’t air his comments until after the voting concludes. They should air his comments before the voting begins so he can help influence voters.
Tags: American Idol, pop culture
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