Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Note from Ava on ABC's altering Colin Powell's remarks

C.I. posted "ABC 'fixes' Colin Powell" earlier today.

Let's be really clear here, I'm just a journalism student and I know you don't alter a quote the way ABC did. C.I. and I reviewed the 20/20 interview Barbara Walters did with Colin Powell
(see "TV Review: Barbara and Colin remake The Way We Were"). We did take notes. We missed a "was" which we wrongly listed as "is." We'll cop to that. It was [an] unintentional mistake, but it's a mistake.

What ABC did isn't a mistake. Robert Parry is using the quote from ABC's online report of the interview. Others will as well. The story is wrong.

Now NPR often, in their non-live interviews, edits out "uh"s and other things. Journalists debate whether that's appropriate or not. What is not debatable is whether you can alter a quote that's been broadcast.

That's what ABC did.

If you missed the interview, we noted in our review that Powell was shifty during that section.
He was put on the spot. He had to confront that he had a "blot" on his record.

ABC's online version smooths over all his awkwardness. His awkwardness is as much a part of the story as anything else. When he's saying "uh" over and over, it's part of the story. When he messes up and says "United Nations" in the place of "United States" it's part of the story.

Journalistically, ABC isn't allowed to clean up what they broadcast and claim it as official record.
That's what they did.

Hopefully, others will have to answer for their actions. Powell didn't have to answer too much (the interview was air kisses) but he did have to speak on the issue of lying in his United Nations presentation. When he spoke to that, he wasn't smooth. He wasn't polished.

When ABC news online reworks the quote to make him look "statesman" like and not like the shifty man who kept saying "uh" over and over, they are rewriting history and they're putting a gloss on him.

Journalistically, what they did is serious. As C.I. noted, when a photo is altered (Oprah's the example C.I. uses, a more recent one involved Martha Stewart) it creates a discussion among journalists about ethics. So should this.

Powell's testimony was faulty. (I believe he lied.) In the only confrontation the public has yet to see with their own eyes, Powell stammered. To remove the stammer from the quote (the repeated "uh"s, the wrongful use of the United Nations, etc.) is to remove reality from what he said.

It's to present him as "smooth" and deliberate and resolute. And that's not how it played on TV before your very eyes. ABC news online alters a quote they had access to. Now the quote is being used (by good journalists like Robert Parry) because the assumption is that ABC has properly transcribed it in their story. They haven't. It's not what he said.

It does matter.

The mainstream media went into spin mode before the invasion/occupation. Supposedly, they've now woken up. Then why are they spinning now?

If Colin Powell was Joe Smith, ABC wouldn't smooth over his quote. They've taken two statements and run them together -- leaving out the question in between (without indicating that via ". . .") and they've taken out his stumbles. That's not reporting. They need to be called on their actions.

Online version via "Exclusive: Colin Powell on Iraq, Race, and Hurricane Relief" by "ABC News."

"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."

Reality from the broadcast:

Walters: However, you gave the world false, groundless reasons for going to war. You've said, and I quote, 'I will forever be known as the one who made the case for war.' Do you think this blot on your record will stay with you for the rest of your life?
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.

Altering reality isn't reporting.