Opinion: Media Mangle

Media, Not Bush, Nuance-Challenged

MSM can't or won't distinguish between lies and mistakes

In the 1971 Raquel Welch western “Hannie Caulder” there’s a scene in which Ernest Borgnine and Jack Elam tell Strother Martin that he “lied” when he told them there would be no shotgun guard on a stagecoach they were trying to rob.

“That wasn’t a lie. That was a mistake,” Martin said to his illiterate brothers, who, not being mainstream media reporters, actually understood the distinction.

I stumbled on this scene a few weeks ago while channel hopping between college basketball games. It struck me that this was exactly the issue the media had so much trouble understanding over the past two years. “Bush lied, people died,” is how it has been translated by the left.

What is it about the media these days that makes them unable to fathom nuances. While it’s George W. Bush who is supposed to be challenged in the ability to detect nuances, it is the media that is unable to make many important distinctions.

The “Bush lied about WMD” meme mentioned above is the most visible. Anyone with the sense God gave, well, Ernest Borgnine and Jack Elam, should be able to understand the following: 1) Every Western intelligence agency thought Saddam Hussein had WMD, 2) That they could not be found after the U.S. invasion meant that every Western intelligence agency, along with the Bush administration, was mistaken, or they were secreted to some other country to be discovered later. But there was no lie.

The continued use of the words “lie” or “misled” by Democrats and the mainstream media (is there a difference?), then, has got to be put into the category of willfully misrepresenting the issue to the American people. High-level Democratic leaders still push this line on Don Imus’ radio show and various cable talk fests. Some people call this lying.

Just this weekend the media showed again how it would use its willingness to ignore nuances to obtain political advantage. The Los Angeles Times “broke the story” that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his family had allowed his father to die in 1988 after a serious injury had put him in a coma. The purpose of this story is obvious: Tom DeLay, that hypocrite, let his father die peacefully but is raising Cain trying to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

I listened to radio news reports of this story and it had its desired effect. The reports imply that Schiavo and DeLay’s father are similar cases. The LA Times story reports but downplays the fact that DeLay’s father was being kept alive by artificial means, was in a coma and his kidney’s had failed. Schiavo, on the other hand, was being kept alive by food and water. The two are hardly analogous.

But the media, oblivious to nuance when it needs to be, can’t see the difference. The dramatic language in the LA Times story attempts valiantly to convince that the two cases are the same, all the while tip-toeing to keep from simply lying about it.

DeLay, the LA Times story says, is “among the strongest advocates of keeping the woman, who doctors say has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, connected to her feeding tube. DeLay has denounced Schiavo’s husband, as well as judges, for committing what he calls ‘an act of barbarism’ in removing the tube. … In 1988, however, there was no such fiery rhetoric as the congressman quietly joined the sad family consensus to let his father die.”

This drive-by journalism is akin to a reporter doing a story on Chappaquiddick and Mary Jo Kopechne every time Sen. Edward Kennedy votes on a bill containing funds for bridge improvement. It just would never happen. But the LA Times doesn’t think twice about using DeLay’s family tragedy to score political points.

The question for the news consumer is: Does the mainstream media really lack the rudimentary analytical powers to distinguish between a lie and a mistake, a person on actual life-support and a person simply being fed? Are these nuances simply too subtle for most reporters and editors?

Or is it something else, like pushing a political and ideological agenda disguised as journalism?

Ham is publisher of Carolina Journal.