Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Cherry Picking

In 1970 I wrote a paper called "The Tailor and the Truth: Why It's Difficult to Tell the Truth on Television" for a mass media class I was taking towards earning a master’s degree in communications. I could not help but think of this paper when the Republican House majority recently received access to the account that had originally been viewed only by the House committee investigating the protest that took place in 2021 and 2022. When the Republican Party gained leadership of the House of Representatives in 2022, they were able to acquire the unfiltered video coverage they had until then been denied. They then gave the tapes to Fox News Network’s host Tucker Carlson and he broadcasted a very different story to the public, a more calm recollection of the event, than the coverage viewers saw in real time on the day the event took place or the choice of clips selected by the 2021 House committee under Democratic leadership that revealed a more violent and calculated assault on the Capitol.


I decided to go back and look at my paper in an effort to help me figure out the current controversy. I found a reference that I had made to a book written by two sociologists about the selective coverage of a Chicago parade honoring Douglas MacArthur that had taken place after General MacArthur had been fired by President Harry Truman when he refused to take his superior’s orders during the Korean War of 1951.


The authors pointed out that by selecting images of the parade intended to welcome home the fallen hero General Douglas MacArthur, the public was given a sense that the parade for him was much more passionate than it really was. The clips shown to the television public focused on the masses of humanity crowded on State Street to watch the General ride by in an open vehicle, interviews with euphoric onlookers, and photos of mounds of ticker tape falling from the windows of the surrounding skyscrapers. It did not show groups of people looking on briefly before they sought out a bar or restaurant to further entertain themselves. It did not show the empty seats at Soldiers’ Field where the General gave a speech about his accomplishments and how he should not have been fired by President Truman for his views on how to win the Korean War. And it did not show interviews with others who thought President Truman had done the right thing. 


In the same paper, I cited another incident from that period of time in which I was writing: that of the protests against the View Nam War that took place during the 1968 Democratic Convention during which the media’s coverage favored the police’s attempt to maintain order and revealed none of the police’s violent overreactions.


It's been two years since the January 6th incident took place and, according to the Federal Communications Commissions, Mr. Carlson has every right to interpret the series of incidents the way he chooses. He’s entitled to report on what he thinks occurred. 


So much needs to be done to make our world today more “fair and balanced” without depriving us of our right to speak out. A few suggestions might be returning to a stricter code for broadcasting such as Newton Minow’s Fairness Doctrine that existed in the times when I was studying the mass media and which also included a recommendation for accountability when rules were broken. Another might be a requirement in all schools that students take a course on mass and social media to learn the fallacies that can contribute to a misinterpretation of the truth. And finally, it all goes back to the values instilled in us when we are growing up: kindness, curiosity, respect, open-mindedness, determination, humility, humor and all those other traits that make us good Americans.



Mimi Pockross is a freelance writer and the author of three books. She is currently working on a fourth book, a novel about the American family.

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