Dealing with the mainstream news media – a lesson from the past

When you see how the mainstream media are covering the Trump administration – almost universally negatively, vituperatively and untruthfully – it’s worth remembering that such tactics are nothing new.  They may be a lot more prevalent now, almost dominant in fact, but they’ve been around for decades.

Quin Hillyer remembers one occasion involving a nationally known media figure, back in 1993.

A 60 Minutes assistant producer finally contacted our office directly. To this day, I can remember the attitude: aggressive, imperious, accusatory … A Republican congressman was in the show’s sights—oddly enough, not for being too heartless, but for supposedly pandering to touchy-feely animal rights extremists. And the producer was demanding an on-camera interview with Livingston.

I drew on my experience as a research assistant for a widely used text on journalistic ethics, The Virtuous Journalist by Stephen Klaidman and Tom Beauchamp, in which CBS News and 60 Minutes had been used in several case studies of what not to do. I advised Livingston that he should demand the right to have our own camera tape any interview ourselves, so we could have irrefutable evidence if the show unfairly spliced several interview segments together, out of context, to make him look bad. Livingston declined. He had nothing to hide, he said. Tell the producer he would gladly do the interview— as long as it was aired either live or entirely unedited. Pre-taped and edited, no. Live or full-length, fine.

I called the producer back with our terms. She laughed nastily. She said I’d regret it.

. . .

Some days later, CBS star Mike Wallace himself called me. He pretended to be my buddy. It was a tough act to carry off when his words carried a veiled threat.

Speaking in a faux-avuncular voice, Wallace said almost these exact words: “Look, how old are you?…. Just 28? Well, let me give you some advice. You seem like a smart young man. But let me tell you what I’ve learned in 50 years in this business. What I’ve learned is that you’re always better off answering all the questions. And you’re always better off if you cooperate with people who have a lot more experience than you. There’s a good reason why I and 60 Minutes have such an excellent reputation. Just cooperate with us, and you’ll be just fine.”

Gee, how nice.

I reiterated our terms. Live and unedited, or no dice. Wallace wasn’t happy. He said he never agreed to terms like that, “not even for Henry Kissinger.”

. . .

A MONTH OR SO LATER, after we sent a certified letter repeating our concerns about the story’s directions and Livingston’s offer to go on camera live or unedited, the segment on the cat-shooting finally aired. As expected, it was a hit job. It made the scientist sound like a saintly Albert Schweitzer. It made the protesters, none of whom amounted to any political threat to Livingston’s safe seat, sound more extreme than Greenpeace. Worse, it used footage of animal rights activists in high lather who were protesting some other subject at some other place—but with a voice-over making it seem like these were the protesters against the cat project. The deliberate impression was to make Livingston sound like a scared congressman pandering, fearfully, to those protesters.

Oh—and Wallace said, on air, that he had repeatedly offered Livingston a chance to discuss the situation, but that Livingston refused.

There’s much more at the link.  It’s worth reading the whole thing to understand how ‘truth’ is, at best, a highly elastic concept to most of the mainstream media.  It seems nothing’s changed since then . . . more’s the pity.



  1. They lie, and they have lied since before Walter Duranty covered up the Ukraine famine for Stalin.

    Nothing new under the sun.

    As the article shows, NEVER go in front of their camera without having one you control recording the scene.

  2. Today, you could stick your phone in your desk or somewhere in the office and record the whole thing. Then you have your record that the senator's aide wanted.

  3. Using a concealed recorder is too chancy, some places have a Two Party rule for any recording and a felony rap if you violate it. Better to have a visible reminder so they are on their best behavior.

    Even *having* a visible camera doesn't necessarily help. Katie Couric tried to screw over the Virginia 2A people with her editing and they DID have a their own camera running.

    The current crop of TV 'reporters' need to be cast into the outer darkness and replaced with more honest and ethical people.

  4. I worked for a TV show in Hollywood in the mid-90's. One of the early REALITY shows which should not have had anything really controversial going on- and I was shocked at how dishonest and conniving the people I worked with were. They didn't give damn about the truth. They only cared about ratings. It was less about politics then but no less instructive on how much you can't trust anything that comes out of that industry. I didn't last a year because I know I couldn't survive in that industry without becoming like them.

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