Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Editing out controversy

During an appearance on the “Larry King Live” show last Wednesday, comedian Bill Maher speculated that some high-ranking Republicans were gay. Then, prompted by King, the former host of "Politically Incorrect" named names.

The interview was broadcast live on CNN, but Maher's comments were edited out of the rebroadcast of the show and the transcript appearing on CNN's Web site, as well as the copy provided to LexisNexis.

Thanks to the Internet, you can find the full conversation with little difficulty. In fact, the interview was quickly posted to youtube, and then taken down when CNN alleged copyright infringement.

A spokeswoman for “Larry King Live” told The New York Times that CNN could be held legally responsible for republishing Maher’s comments without any additional research. Certainly, that is a valid concern. But in an age when the public can easily access an unedited version of an interview, does it even make sense to cut something you know will appear in a blog the next morning? More importantly, has CNN tarnished its credibility or preserved it by not republishing the comments?

I think the case has relevance for print reporters, too, especially since most of our interviews are not broadcast. Many people have been embarrassed by the media for their comments, such as Jesse Jackson when he made an Anti-Semitic remark in an interview while campaigning for president in 1984. But I’m sure just as many have been spared embarrassment by reporters willing to overlook an offensive comment. How do you decide when to splash a controversial remark across the front page and when to leave it in the pages of your notebook?

To watch the interview click here



At Tuesday, November 14, 2006, Anonymous TD said...

I think you raise a really important question about whether or not it is even worth editing something when the transcript will appear the next day.

I think as a journalist, you have to take some comments with a grain of salt and leave them out if you don't feel they fit with the piece.

At Wednesday, November 15, 2006, Anonymous JG said...

Despite the ease in which people can find unedited material on the web, I think CNN was smart in removing the questionable content from their show.

If you can limit the ways in which material is available, you're better off. So what if people can download a transcript? At least they can't see it and hear it live all over again. I guess that's better than no move at all.

CNN will surely be criticized, but it's a price to pay when you're dealing with live shows. I think their credibility and reputuation will outweigh an interview gone wrong.

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