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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.
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
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
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