Tuesday, September 13, 2005

ABC "fixes" Colin Powell

When a magazine, even an entertainment one, puts Orpah's head (for instance) on another body, there's an outcry. It's not considered appropriate or up to journalistic standards.

So let's see if anyone has a problem with ABC news which has done something just as bad if not worse.

Robert Parry has a new article "Colin Powell Being Colin Powell" (Consortium News). It's a good article, a strong one (not uncommon with Parry's writing).

It includes this:

In his first extensive interview since his resignation early this year, Powell told ABC News that his reputation has suffered because his assurances about Iraq's supposed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons proved false.

"It's a blot," Powell said. "I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."

That isn't correct. It's not Parry's mistake. He's using (and crediting) "Exclusive: Colin Powell on Iraq, Race, and Hurricane Relief" by "ABC News."

ABC broadcast the interview (conducted by Barbara Walters) on September 9th. (The article's dated September 8th when you use the link, September 9th when you utilize the print function.)
Is it appropriate for ABC to improve on the public record?

Colin Powell did not say "Of course it will. It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."

Here's how that "quote" sounded before ABC News decided to "improve" on it and reassemble it:

Powell: Well it's a, it's a, of course it will. It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United Nations, uh, United States, to the world. And it will always be uh, part of my, uh, my record.
Walters: How painful is it?
Powell: (shrugs) It was -- it *was* painful. (shifts, shrugs) It's painful now.

In ABC's "quote" they bracket "it." I have no idea why. He says "it." But they note, wrongly, that they are "adding" to the quote there. They do not note that they have deleted the stammers. They also leave out the "United Nations" and the fact that Walters asked him a question.

Why does it matter?

First of all, it matters because a news organization is supposed to be accurate.

Second of all, it matters because this is Powell addressing an issue. His mistakes (UN?), his stammers, all of it is important. ABC news presents it as a smooth, seamless response. That's not the case. He hemmed and he hawed. And the public should know that and the public record should show that.

Print reporters caught some attention for improving on Bully Boy's statments. This should catch attention as well.

Part of the "response" is how Powell structures his words.

Is he nervous? He may appear that way to some (Ava and I found him shifty when we watched the interview). This is public record. This was broadcast on national television. ABC does not have the right, journalistically, to 'smooth over' his remarks.

He was awkward when he spoke. That's part of his response -- or would be if ABC hadn't cleaned it up.

Ava and I reviewed the "performance" for The Third Estate Sunday Review (see "TV Review: Barbara and Colin remake The Way We Were").

The 'smoothed over' quote is not how it occurred.

Ava and I hold onto a copy of anything we review for at least seven days in case a question comes up. For instance on Smallville, surely, one person wrote, Tom Welling wasn't shirtless when Annette O'Toole remarked that he was dressed to go out, was he?

We could be wrong. We watched it again. He was shirtless. At other times, someone will question if another character might have stated the line. So we'll watch again. We can make a mistake and we will correct it if we do. (More often than not, we're having to prove something to angry Nick Lachey fans or angry Nick & Jessica fans.) (After seven days, someone's waited too long to weigh in on a TV review. Unless it's something we've been provided with, we ditch whatever we've reviewed.)

Ava's in class but I called the apartment and Jim's there. He played back the interview. I can't say whether "It is painful. It's painful now." is what Powell said (as we noted) or if it's "It was painful. It's painful now" (as ABC notes). The connection wasn't clear enough for me to make out if "is" or "was" is used. [Note from Ava: I've listened to the interview. "Was" is the word and I've corrected that. Otherwise, C.I. and my version of the quote is accurate. I've put "*" around "was" to note that I've changed it. That is the only thing we're wrong on.]

But I could make out the "uh"s. I could make out Walter's question. I could make out Powell stating "United Nations."

Was he nervous? Did he intend to say "United Nations"?

Presenting it, as ABC news does, in a smooth, seamless quote is not reflecting the public record. It is, however, once again cleaning up after Powell.

In our review, Ava and I noted that it played like a really bad remake of The Way We Were. We note this:

As the film, er news segment, winds down, the makers decide to go another way. In the original The Way We Were, the child of Katie & Hubbell is seen only fleetingly. In the remake, she actually has lines. As military and infotainment merge, their by-product, the remake tell us, is Elizabeth Vargas. Child Vargas is left to make one of those uncomfortable points that children always make, "Colin Powell doesn't seem to be haunted by this blot on his career." Walters all but brushes a lock from Powell's forehead as she attempts to make Vargas see father Powell in
a more flattering, and far less realistic, light:

Well, you know, he is a, he is a fine soldier, he has a fine family, he has respect, and this is a man who never wanted the Glory Road.

The music fails to swell. Possibly because Walters is no singer and they rightly spare us her rendition of "The Way We Were."

What they couldn't do when people were watching with their own eyes, ABC does in their "report." There's no excuse for what they have posted online. That's not what happened, that's not the way it happened.

It does present Powell in a more flattering light. It does eliminate his starts and stops, his stammer, his use of "United Nations." As p.r., it's fine. As journalism it's not fine. Journalism doesn't allow the public record to be 'polished.'

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