Having served as the media director for a national citizen’s lobby group several years ago, I know that the media can have their own agenda. I experienced it first hand.
Years ago, after I did a live interview on a major national network, the producer used the footage to put together a package on the same topic to air later that night. The edited version was cut to make it sound like I said something I really didn’t. While the edits were consistent with our organization’s overall purpose, strategically it was not something we were saying at the time. I was really angry with the producer and left her a message to that effect.
When I spoke with the producer the next day, she admitted that she cut the interview deliberately to create a brand-new-with-a-different-meaning quote for me because, as she put it, it was something that she “thought” I would say. It was the first time I had had that happen to me and when I spoke with another spokesperson–who had years more experience– he just laughed and said that it had happened to him several times and it was just the way reporters and producers could be. The edited quote, while not ideal, wasn’t the end of the world. His advice: never trust them.
But I was angry. A journalist is supposed to report the news without bias and they’re not supposed to go “quote shopping”– i.e., trying to set up an interview to get a quote that fits a preconceived narrative. They’re not supposed to cut interview footage to reflect what they think a spokesperson should say.
And, before you say it, I know they’re human–they make mistakes just like everyone else– but a single producer doesn’t produce a news package in a vacuum. She has supervising producers and executive producers who are supposed to act as stop-gaps to prevent such things from happening.
So, yeah, I was angry.
But I was a trained spokesperson. I knew what to expect and how to react and how to respond, yet I was still upset by how I was treated. I was still shocked by how easily it was–and is–in this day and age to have the words I said edited so that they sounded like a completely different quote.
And the worst part is that those particular edits were a sham–a set up–designed to give “legs” to a story, make the news cycle, and put a particular network at the front. All in the name of ratings–which leads to advertisers and more money for the network.
Newspapers around since the 1800s have had to compete against 24-hour news cycles since the 1990s and, today, they have to compete against the Twitterverse with posts from Joey875555 or Sebastian254486 (I’m making these up so don’t look for them on Twitter). And often the things posted on Twitter can become viral in moments.
Pictures can be cropped and airbrushed, video footage edited, and yet, everyone still believes that what they see is the truth.
And they take sides. Often viciously–because the basest, most feral parts of mankind feel freed in the anonymity of the internet.
A lie can lede and a retraction doesn’t have the same power as the original story.
There is a saying–modified from something Jonathan Swift once wrote–that says, “A lie can travel around the world before the truth has a chance to put on its pants.”
Sadly, a few centuries later, it’s still true.