Saturday, January 27, 2007

Manipulating the Watchdog

Ap writer Michael J. Sniffen wrote an article today revealing the latest testimony from I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s perjury trial. Vice President Dick Cheney’s former top press assistant, Cathie Martin, testified about how the Bush administration purposefully tried to manipulate the media to shed a more favorable light on Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration; this was at a time when the White House was coming under fire for saying it had proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and using this “proof” as justification to initiate war.

Some of Martin’s revelations on the administration’s media manipulation:

The uses of leaks and exclusive interviews
Deciding when to be anonymous and when to allow your name to be used
Discussions on which news medium is most easily controlled and the most opportune timing of releasing information
Lists of favorable journalists and also a kind of “blacklist” of critics

Martin maintained that after the firestorm of attacks against the vice president, fueled on information from ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson that the administration ignored his 2002 report debunking rumors that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger, Martin received orders directly from the president to release information that Cheney did not know Wilson, knew nothing of the report and only found out about the report in 2003 from news stories – all false according to Martin.

These revelations are troubling at best. Getting the scoop in political reporting, especially in Washington, often depends on who you know. But just as journalists have to remain constantly aware of our biases, we also have to be aware that we are in danger of being used and manipulated for political and other gain at all times.

While setting up a story last week, I found myself in this situation. My contact, thinking I was merely a naïve student reporter, preceded to tell me how she would like the story “to be framed.” “Oh, don’t include that* aspect,” she said of some piece of information that might be seen as unfavorable to the organization. I politely told her that the reporting of the story was my job, but I was annoyed.

Most of the time, the manipulation is not as apparent, so be aware of your biases and be aware of other’s biases as well. Those who seek out media attention, while good for the camera, often have an agenda to push.



At Sunday, January 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TD, you bring up an important point - particularly as we are entering into the '08 campaign race. Candidates will be doing all that they can to manipulate the media (as we saw in CY's post). Journalists do have to hold their ground and be aware.

But what happens when participating in the manipulation is "necessary" to get access? We've been seeing that play out throughout the administration. And just look at this year's selection of speaker for the White House Correspondents' dinner.


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