Friday, January 5, 2007

Education and the NYT's: A Personal Memoir

I will never forget an experience I had a few years back while receiving an "education." While flipping through the TV channels one day for some background noise while I studied I came across a White House press conference. I wasn't really interested in what was on the television, but some positive information for the current administration was being released and the members of the press asking questions seemed genuinely annoyed by the good news. It really surprised me how mean the press was when addressing the press secretary. While asking questions and follow-up questions, the members of the press would restate the information they were being given, changing it slightly to, in effect, put words into the press secretary's mouth.

The exchange sort of looked like this, though I no longer remember the exact subject matter:

"So what your really saying is ...."

"No. What I actually said was ...."

"But the President said ...."

"No. What the President said was ...."

"Well so would you say then that ...."

"No. Look, this is good news. The report issued today confirms what the President has been saying for months. This is a positive report. This is good for the American people. No other American president has been able to boast this kind of figure"
And of course you can imagine how the report was handled in the media. Having watched the actual press conference, having heard directly the press secretary's words, I was amazed the next day when I picked up a copy of the NYTs and read their version of the press conference. It read something like, "More bad news for the American public - White House backs down on figures, new report details lower gains than some analysts had predicted."

You can imagine my shock. The press secretary, in plain, easy to understand language, released the details of a report. The press tried to get him admit to their spun interpretations. When the press secretary corrected them, and directly refuted their spin, they printed their version anyway and made up the notion that the white house took a blow and had to step back from their previous statements. I was aghast.

It doesn't end there. While in a graduate level course, an instructor made a comment entirely unrelated to the subject we were there to learn. We were being taught a subject that had absolutely nothing to do with politics, the subject matter of the white house press conference, the media, or anything at all related to what I had witnessed on cspan the day before. However, the instructor made a snide remark, I guess intended to be a joke, about the administration's recent "backpedaling." He lifted up the front page of the NYT's for emphasis. Many of my classmates, all graduate level students, laughed.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have, but I raised my hand. "The White House didn't backpedal. In fact, here is what the press secretary said ..." My professor was pretty shocked. He again pointed to the NYT's and asked me how I could explain the news story. I said, "I watched the press conference in which the details of this report were released. It was on Cspan yesterday. The administration did not backpedal. I watched the same press conference as the person who wrote that article. This is what was said... This is why it is not backpedaling..."

I am sure I spent about 10 minutes refuting my professor's claim... a claim which was based directly on a NYT's article that portrayed a press conference, that I too had watched, in an entirely unfair and biased manner. After class I had maybe 20 students thank me for speaking up. My professor also wished to speak with me. The jist of what he told me was this: he appreciates the fact that I would correct him if he is wrong, but in the future he would request that I do so after class, and not in front of the class.

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