Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Cameras never lie, but edits often do

Normally I tune out the "news" reported on the radio as I slug home from work, but sometimes I listen, for tips on how to use edits, cuts and quotes to mislead. NPR is the best at this. Their usual MO is to set up a problem, and then have comments from 'both sides of the issue'. Fair? Well, there are a few problems with this.

First is the fallacious assumption that there are only 2 sides to an issue: pro and con. Nuances, alternative views and other considerations are ignored. This leads to the second part of the classic NPR deception: a false or incomplete dichotomy.

A classic example is their discussion of abortion, though the war in Iraq, Dr. Rice’s nomination, health care or any number of other issues lend themselves to this trick also. If, for instance, they want to portray those Bible thumping, right wing Neanderthals for the drooling, babbling idiots that they are, they will find the most loony apologist that still sounds lucid and set them opposite a ‘moderate’ who has stories of raped women with deformed ‘fetuses’ in dire need of life saving (whose?) abortions. In this case, the discussion will focus on the dangers of extremists who hold radical positions, and why it is important that they be silenced.

Later, however, when they want to show that ‘most Americans support a woman’s Constitutional right to an abortion’, the same ‘moderate’ will be their balance on the right, and a spokescreamer from NARAL will be the balance on the left. The ‘debate’ will ignore the portion of the country with ‘extremist’ positions, as if they did not exist. The debate has thus moved into the realm of ‘all reasonable people’. Other views not discussed, therefore, must be ‘not reasonable’. A deft trick, I must say.

The next part of their deception has to do with the selection of the issues to be discussed, and on which part of the show. Some rules they seem to follow: if you talk about the war, talk about something criminal or expensive afterward. If you talk about a favorite liberal pet project, talk about something upbeat or soothing afterward.

Another favorite tactic: leave off the end of the story. Yesterday, a ‘heartwrenching story about two Marines killed in December’ included a segment about their families. One was a well-to-do family, and the other was a family of poor Mexican immigrants. The father of the dead Marine did not even speak English and lived in a mobile home with ‘water dripping from the ceiling in the kitchen’. At the end of the segment, NPR mentioned in passing that the two families had established some sort of memorial fund. That was it. How did this poor Mexican do this? No mention. (SGLI? Support from other Marine families? We’ll never know…) There was no positive mention of the military anywhere in the segment, and except for the failure of the interviewer to elicit negative comments through leading questions, the listener was left wondering how the families felt about their sons’ service.

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