Comment rien ne change dans le processus d’auto-censure de la presse US

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Comment rien ne change dans le processus d’auto-censure de la presse US

7 septembre 2004 — A la suite de la Convention républicaine, le groupe d’analyse des médias FAIR-L (groupe “Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting Media” d’analyse et de “critique activiste”) a étudié le comportement des médias américains vis-à-vis de cet événement, qui doit d’ores et déjà rester comme un des sommets de l’action partisane et diffamatoire (anti-Kerry) de la campagne présidentielle. Cette analyse est particulièrement remarquable, en ce qu’elle montre à quel degré d’auto-censure et d’acceptation du discours du pouvoir en place la presse américaine est parvenue.

Il s’agit d’un point d’autant plus remarquable que cette même presse ne cesse d’accumuler les mea-culpa, comme celui, récemment, du Washington Post, sur son comportement durant les prémisses de la guerre en Irak. Sur le fond, l’analyse de FAIR-L montre que rien n’a changé. Les médias américains continuent à pratiquer l’auto-censure face aux “messages” du pouvoir. Le comportement est si complètement systématique qu’on peut, effectivement comme dirait monsieur de La Palice, parler de système.

If Only They Had Invented the Internet

The Failure of Fact-Checking at the Republican Convention

By FAIR, September 3, 2004

It is the function of journalism to separate fact from fiction. In

covering the Republican National Convention of 2004, the media made

isolated efforts to point out some of the convention speakers' more

egregious distortions, but on the whole failed in their vital role of

letting citizens know when they are being lied to.

To take the example that dominated the convention perhaps more than any

other claim: Professional politicians and political correspondents alike

know that legislators frequently vote against appropriations for a variety

of reasons, even though they do not seek to eliminate the programs being

voted on. They know that different versions of the same appropriation are

often offered, and that lawmakers will sometimes vote for one version and

against another-- not because they suffer from multiple personality

disorder, but because that's how they express disagreements about how

government programs should be funded.

No one who has spent any amount of time in or around government would find

this the least bit confusing. Yet news analysts generally allowed

Republican Party leaders to pretend shock that Sen. John Kerry would vote

against an $87 billion appropriation for the Iraq War-- as if this meant

that Kerry opposed giving troops ''money for bullets, and fuel, and

vehicles, and body armor,'' as George W. Bush declared (9/2/04). (The

references to Kerry voting against body armor were particularly

disingenuous, given that the $87 billion only included money for body

armor at the insistence of congressional Democrats — Army Times,


And journalists were complacent as Republicans expressed mock bafflement

over why Kerry would vote against this bill when he had voted for another

version of the bill (or ''exactly the same thing,'' in former New York Mayor

Rudolph Giuliani's words-- 8/30/04). The reason that Kerry introduced an

alternative bill-- because he wanted to pay for the appropriation by

raising taxes on the wealthy rather than through deficit spending-- was

well-publicized at the time (Washington Post, 9/18/03). Yet rather than

challenging the dishonesty of this centerpiece of the Republican attack on

Kerry, CNN's Jeff Greenfield after Bush's speech (9/2/04) called it ''one

of the most familiar and effective lines of his stump speech.''

Bush himself threatened to veto the Iraq spending bill if the

reconstruction aid for Iraq it included was in the form of loans rather

than grants; by the logic of the Republican convention, Bush

''flip-flopped'' exactly the same way that Kerry did on the $87 billion by

supporting one version of the bill and opposing another. Yet a Nexis

search of television coverage of the convention turns up only one

reference to Bush's veto of the bill, by Paul Begala on CNN (9/1/04).

Overwhelmingly, TV pundits covering the convention allowed the charade

surrounding the $87 billion to pass without critical comment.

But overlooking distortions was the norm in television's coverage of the

convention. When Dick Cheney spoke (9/1/04), he said of Kerry: ''He

declared at the Democratic Convention that he will forcefully defend

America after we have been attacked.... We cannot wait for the next

attack. We must do everything we can to prevent it and that includes the

use of military force.''

Kerry did say in that speech (7/29/04), ''I will never hesitate to use

force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and a

certain response.'' But he couldn't have meant that that was the only time

military force might be required, since he had said earlier in the speech

that ''the only justification for going to war'' is ''to protect the American

people, fundamental American values from a threat that was real and


Cheney went on to say, ''Senator Kerry denounces American action when other

countries don't approve as if the whole object of our foreign policy were

to please a few persistent critics.'' In this he echoed Sen. Zell Miller

(9/1/04), who charged, ''Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use

military force only if approved by the United Nations.'' In his acceptance

speech, Kerry actually said, ''I will never give any nation or

international institution a veto over our national security.''

Miller and Cheney's speeches were filled with similar misrepresentations

of Kerry's positions and record. Yet afterwards, Newsweek managing editor

Jon Meacham, appearing as a pundit on MSNBC (9/1/04), had this analysis:

“If I taught at the Kennedy School, I would take these two speeches as

ur-text of partisan rhetoric. I think it was a brilliant tactical night,

one of the most brilliant in the age of television. These were two

concise, rather devastating rhetorical hits at John Kerry. And there was

just — they did not miss a base. They did not miss anything that they

could hit.”

It's not that journalists never attempt to fact-check claims made in

political speeches-- sometimes effectively, sometimes less so. (A couple

of the better efforts were by AP's Calvin Woodward — 9/2/04— and the

Washington Post's Glenn Kessler and Dan Morgan, 9/3/04). But these efforts

are generally segregated from regular news coverage of the convention, not

incorporated into the main reports and analysis, as if sorting out what's

true and what isn't were a departure from normal journalistic practice.

When MSNBC's Chris Matthews (9/1/04) questioned Miller about the fairness

of his litany of weapons programs that Kerry ''tried his best to shut

down,'' he was following a line of debunking that was laid out six months

ago by Slate's Fred Kaplan (2/25/04), who pointed out that Republicans

were citing Kerry's ''no'' vote on the 1991 Defense appropriations bill as

if it were an attempt to eliminate all Pentagon spending. What was

remarkable was that Matthews was willing to bring up this criticism in a

live interview — a breach of media operating procedure so dramatic that it

provoked Miller to say he ''wish[ed] we lived in the day where you could

challenge a person to a duel.''

But ascertaining the truth is the responsibility of every journalist in

every story. It's the first point in the Society of Professional

Journalists' code of ethics: ''Journalists should test the accuracy of

information from all sources.'' It's the ubiquitous reports that analyze

the aesthetics of oratory and speculate on the impact speeches will have

on the horserace that ought to be the exception.

It would hardly be unprecedented for the media to consistently call

attention to the veracity of a political campaign. During the 2000

campaign, reporters and pundits delighted in pointing out examples of what

they said were ''exaggerations'' by Vice President Al Gore. Unfortunately,

these examples were often false-- contrary to more than a thousand media

assertions, Gore never claimed to have ''invented'' the Internet, and he

actually did serve as a model for the character in Love Story, according

to the novel's author (Daily Howler, 12/7/99, 12/3/02).

It's telling that when faced with real distortions, not on trivial matters

of little consequence to voters or the campaign, but on life-or-death

matters that are central to the presidential debate, most journalists

become agnostics regarding the truth or falsity of the smears they pass


[Notre recommandation est que ce texte doit être lu avec la mention classique à l'esprit, — “Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.”.]


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