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“Both Sides” Reporting

January 28th, 2007

One meme that has repeatedly emerged in news reporting is the idea of “giving both sides” of a story. If you are willing to presume that any story has two sides (as opposed to one or more than two), then that sounds quite objective and balanced, of course–until you come across a story where one “side” is not only an outright lie, but a demonstrably outright lie. And in the recent age of media manipulation by the right wing, such stories are more numerous than one can count.

However, one such case has surfaced in the past few days, one which is so egregious in its nature that it bears commenting on, even though the source (Fox News) is one that you would naturally expect to bear such falsified witness.

Sean Hannity, of Fox News’ Hannity’s America, has decided to air at least one of the deleted scenes from ABC’s now-infamous right-wing fantasy screed The Path to 9/11.

The scene to be shown is most likely going to be the one where a CIA sharpshooter literally has Osama bin Laden in his sights and requires a “go” order from the White House–and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger is represented as chickening out and denying the team the ability to take the shot. Thus, the Clinton White House was directly responsible for 9/11 and the War on Terror™.

This “event” was completely fabricated, is totally false. It never happened. Former CIA chief George Tenet himself said that the mission referred to never got close to Osama bin Laden; the mission had been scrubbed by Tenet himself a few weeks before it was scheduled because it was considered to have a very low probability of success. Berger was informed of the decision, that being the sum total of his involvement. The 9/11 report did say that “working-level CIA officers were disappointed.”

Therefore, the Path to 9/11 scene should have played much differently: a CIA planner wants to go on the mission, but the head of the CIA gets briefed and concludes that it probably won’t work, so “he alone” decides to “‘turn off’ the operation.” The CIA planner is unhappy. End of scene. Now, that wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic, so the Path to 9/11 writer decides to punch the scene up. Instead of simply planning a mission that has a low probability of success, the mission is on the field and has a 100% chance of immediate success; instead of the CIA chief canceling the mission because it probably wouldn’t work, a senior Clinton White House staffer scrubs the mission in a chicken-hearted panic. Yes, that’ll certainly punch up the drama!

Later, the movie’s writer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, admitted to “improvising” the scene. “Improvising,” in this case, meaning that it was rewritten in a way that made it a virtually complete fabrication, indicting real people of having made catastrophically stupid miscalculations that were complete and utter fiction.

In short, it was a lie.

Enter Fox News. (Or, as Olbermann more accurately calls it, “Fox Noise.”) John Finley, producer of Hannity’s America, believes that the story has merit as “news”; according to a Fox News attorney, despite Fox not having the required permission from ABC to air the scene, “officials there believed that the newsworthiness of the material put it under the fair-use exception to the copyright statute.”

But what really merits attention is a statement by Finley:

We here at Fox — and myself personally — feel the American people deserve both sides.

And that, in a nutshell, pretty much describes the attitude taken by Fox News and a sizable chunk of the whole news media, in how it handles the “both sides” philosophy: even though one side consists of an utter, patent lie, the public deserves to hear that lie presented as if it were a viable, honest “alternate view.” Instead of just telling the public the facts and the facts alone, tell them the facts and a big, juicy lie–and then, “let them decide.”

Welcome to the 21st-century news media.

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  1. Tim Kane
    January 28th, 2007 at 22:38 | #1

    Sounds to me like Fox news is just t’ing things up for Kieth Obermann.

    Sock it to ’em, I say.

  2. Tim Kane
    January 28th, 2007 at 23:30 | #2

    Both sides of the story: on the one hand you have Einstein on the other hand you have Moe, Larry and Curly’s side of the story. Fox reports, you decide.

  3. Sam Orton
    May 29th, 2007 at 06:11 | #3

    Okay, you have a lot to say about “reporting both sides” and blaming it on “right-wing manipulation of the media”…. I gotta ask…


    Have you heard ANYTHING in the media about that story? You’ll notice that the link is to Wikipedia, not some right wing website.

    I’ll grant you, I don’t care for media manipulation by the right either. I just don’t see why you *appear* to believe it’s any less common or any less egregious than media manipulation by the left. Surely you won’t claim that “right-wing manipulation of the media” is the reason why this story has been UTTERLY IGNORED, treated as if it never happened, by the national news.

  4. Luis
    May 29th, 2007 at 10:12 | #4

    Sam, Sam, Sam…

    Where do I start?

    First of all, that the link is to a story in WikiPedia is irrelevant, because the controversy you note is attributed in the article to Charlie Daniels and Michelle Malkin–two right-wing extremists. So it is not the neutral WikiPedia which is asserting media bias, it is right-wing extremists asserting media bias, and WikiPedia simply reports on that.

    As for the story itself, media bias is a piss-poor explanation why it has not achieved widespread media coverage. Give me time and I am certain that I could find dozens if not hundreds of crimes committed each year which are comparably horrific, committed by whites, blacks, Hispanics, etc–and yet don’t make the front pages nationwide. The media has its own reasons for selling the stories it does… and it has no problems making a big deal about stories where the bad guys are black.

    Want an example? Here:


    Yep, Susan Smith. Remember her? The woman who drowned her two kids and then blamed it on a black man? Did the media hush up that story because the suspected perp was black? Hell, no. The story was as big as any you’ll see, long before it was revealed that there really was no black man responsible for carjacking and murdering two whites, which, after all, is the identical profile that you say media bias won’t allow to be shown. Even more so, as the Smith case involved a black perp and two white children. Or hey, how about another one?


    Yeah, Charles Stuart, the guy who murdered his pregnant wife, and blamed a black guy for it. Did the media hush that one up because a black man was accused? And we’re talking about the murder of a pregnant white woman here. Surely media bias should have covered that one up, right?

    Sorry, but what you, Malkin, and other wingnuts are claiming is wholly and utterly unsupportable. The media has no problem making huge deals of cases where the perps are black people–in fact, I would make the case that race-based cases like that are even more popular in the media, because they create controversy, which the media can feed off of. But there is ample evidence to show that the media will happily made a huge deal out of a case where a black criminal does something horrible to a white victim.

    So why didn’t they report on the Christian and Newsom case? Who knows? Why don’t they report on so many other cases just like it? Maybe it was considered just another carjacking-murder, like many others. Maybe the story was old by the time anyone noticed anything unusual about it. Maybe the gruesomeness of the murders was considered too much for a story to be super-hyped.

    There’s no way to know for certain. The only thing that can be said for certain about the case is that bias does not keep the media from reporting on cases like this. The media has in the past and will in the future.

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