Monday, December 04, 2006

Freedom of speeches: the press takes some liberties

One major element in my political change process was my loss of faith in the MSM based on something as simple, and easily checkable, as its reporting of the speeches of public figures.

I say "easily checkable," because, with the advent of the internet, it is. As long as a person is willing to make a small effort and take a little extra time, most MSM reports of what a speaker says can be checked against the actual words he/she did say.

The majority of readers, of course, still don't do that. But until recently, almost no one did; the effort and resources required, pre-web, were far greater. So it was less apparent then than it is now that the media regularly distorted the words of many public figures (and who knows? Maybe the practice was actually less common back then).

I first learned about the ubiquity of speech misrepresentation in the MSM through my post-9/11 online reading. At the time it shocked me. It no longer does (I've come to expect it), although it still angers me.

Now I tend to wonder about its causes: is it a reflection of poor reading comprehension, unconscious distortion, or purposeful and knowing misrepresentation, or some combination/alternation of them all?

Now here's a review of a book by communications professor Jim A. Kuypers, detailing media bias in reporting Bush's speeches. It's entitled Bush's War: Media Bias and Justifications for War in a Terrorist Age, and presents an apparently nonpartisan and sobering look at just how incredibly distorted and biased the press has been in distorting Bush's message:

What has essentially happened since 9/11 has been that Bush has repeated the same themes, and framed those themes the same whenever discussing the War on Terror,” said Kuypers, who specializes in political communication and rhetoric. “Immediately following 9/11, the mainstream news media (represented by CBS, ABC, NBC, USA Today, New York Times, and Washington Post) did echo Bush, but within eight weeks it began to intentionally ignore certain information the president was sharing, and instead reframed the president's themes or intentionally introduced new material to shift the focus.”

This goes beyond reporting alternate points of view. “In short,” Kupyers explained, “if someone were relying only on the mainstream media for information, they would have no idea what the president actually said. It was as if the press were reporting on a different speech.”

That's a pretty powerful statement.

In my earlier post today, I spoke of the need for leadership. Part of leadership involves rhetoric, and Bush is obviously no Churchill. But could even Churchill get his message across in the face of such a concerted effort by his own press to distort it?

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