Sunday, July 22, 2007

Journalism: It is not propaganda, it is "narrative"

Boston Globe columnist Penelope Trunk explains that sources should stop complaining about being misquoted by journalists.
As a journalist I hear all the time from people in business that they are misquoted. And you know what? People need to get over that, and I'm going to tell you why. ....

The reason that everyone thinks journalists misquote them is that the person who is writing is the one who gets to tell the story. No two people tell the same story. ....

Here's my advice: If you do an interview with a journalist, don't expect the journalist to be there to tell your story. The journalist gets paid to tell her own stories which you might or might not be a part of.

An example of journalists telling their own story instead of the truth is the Duke lacrosse rape case. Rachel Smolkin investigated this subject and she quotes from NY Times and Newsweek officials:
"It was too delicious a story," says Daniel Okrent, a former New York Times public editor, who is critical of the Times' coverage and that of many other news organizations. "It conformed too well to too many preconceived notions of too many in the press: white over black, rich over poor, athletes over non-athletes, men over women, educated over non-educated. Wow. That's a package of sins that really fit the preconceptions of a lot of us." ....

"We fell into a stereotype of the Duke lacrosse players," says Newsweek's Evan Thomas. "It's complicated because there is a strong stereotype [that] lacrosse players can be loutish, and there's evidence to back that up. There's even some evidence that that the Duke lacrosse players were loutish, and we were too quick to connect those dots."

But he adds: "It was about race. Nifong's motivations clearly were rooted in his need to win black votes. There were tensions between town and gown, that part was true. The narrative was properly about race, sex and class... We went a beat too fast in assuming that a rape took place... We just got the facts wrong. The narrative was right, but the facts were wrong." [emphasis added]

Which is just the point that Ms. Trunk was making: if a journalist has a preferred narrative, there is no reason to let the facts get in the way.

(hat tips to Instapundit and BotW.

UPDATE: John Hinderaker catches the AP working hard on their fictional narrative on Iraq. James Taranto notes (scroll to "Accountability Journalism") how the AP manages the news to fit their agenda with respect ot Guiliani and Obama.

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