Does that surprise you?
In the wake of the Brian Williams affair, the media is once again being a bit hypocritical in biting one of their own. Of course, this is Big Bill O'Reilly, notorious right wing broadcaster. His slightly unbalanced reporting is giving everyone else vertigo. As if he's the hack Big Bill DeBlasio is, or some other professional loudmouths and fudgers.
The Huffington Post investigated (did they actually PAY for the writing this time, or just give a platform and "a good credit" to people).
Below are three of the four conclusions. I'm giving 'em credit so that's "fair use." Of course, I could just re-write their stuff, like Buzzfeed, TheDecider, The Daily Beast, or any of the other fanciful "news" websites that can re-write other peoples' work because facts can't be copyrighted.
Let's stop here for a moment and get back to our premise.
WE ARE TAUGHT TO LIE. I remember a journalism class I took in college, in which the professor, who was publisher of a weekly newspaper, encouraged us to "dramatize." For example, don't report, "The snow is ten inches high on the ground, and the roads are icy."
It's boring. Put some people into the story. The facts are the same, but it's more colorful. Like: "This reporter saw a dog absolutely covered in snow as its owner tried to walk it. It shivered and burrowed under the layer of snow, with only the tail visible above the surface. It continued along, mole-like, until it reached a tree. Then the snow began to turn yellow. Then the burrowing animal continued along, the tail wagging happily. On the street itself, several cars careened along the black ice..."
This is what Mort Sahl used to call "actual if not factual." Or vice-versa.
So what else did Bill O'Reilly brag about that might not be the truth?
Some of my first writings were published in my professor's newspaper...most of them an approved mix of fact and fancy. Once graduated, cum laude, I began to get published in a variety of national magazines, although these were not exactly high on the food chain. One publishing mill was hungry for any and all material, and had a bunch of lurid titles including UFO magazines. I was offered a shot at writing for them (along with their mags on dogs, pets, men's interest, and deep sea adventures). Like the tabloids, you could get away with anything if you simply quoted "an unnamed source." The articles were often not designated as fact. A publisher could shrug and say, "Oh, that was a fiction piece." You stretched the truth a bit, and left it up to the reader to believe it or not.
These would be the same readers who were cheating on their taxes, cheating on their wives, and bragging about the size of fish they caught, and the hole-in-one they never sank.
Meanwhile, ad copy for a variety of worthless products featured "creative writing." It's the kind of thing that Judge Wapner, the original host of "The People's Court" might dismiss genially as "puffing." You're allowed, in the eyes of the law, a certain amount of editorial "puffing." Like, if you say "wonderful used car, looks new," because you polished it and photographed it from an angle where the dents didn't show.
More from Bill:
Basically, Brian Williams and Bill O'Reilly are just two of two hundred, two thousand, twenty thousand reporters or writers out there who've "embellished" their stories. We do live in an area of scripted "reality" television.
It seems every year we get further and further from the truth, and fewer seem to care.
Anyone out there upset about staged scenes on "The Bachelor" or "The Maury Povich Show?"
I recall a writer who wanted to get some publicity for his book. So did another writer, a lady who authored a lurid tome about her sex life. With the help of their publisher, they concocted a scam for Povich's show. She'd be a guest, talking about her erotic adventures, and about how she was an authority on phone sex, and had practiced it hundreds of times.
The kicker? She was going to meet "for the first time," one of her clients. A client who just happened to have a book to promote, and from the same publisher as hers.
This guy had, of course, NEVER had phone sex with the woman, and had met her up at the publisher's office. I think the sweetest part of the deal was that the Povich Show had flown her in to be on the show, and even paid for her hotel. So she was obligated to put on a good show.
Did Maury Povich give a damn? Did he know? Anyone care? If it's not the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams does that absolve a TV show of being truthful? Or is there a little caveat in the credits about "questions for guests were prepared in advance" and "program has been edited for time," etc. etc.
Just to make things more colorful, Povich interviewed the lady first, and then, keeping her partner in crime backstage, asked him some questions. Like: "What do you think this lady looks like, based on her voice?" The co-conspirator laid it on, thick. He said he envisioned the lady author as an adorable blonde with a cute button nose.
The lady was a brunette with a big honker. The audience roared with laughter when the two met. Afterward, the lady felt humiliated. Yes, she'd gotten a lot of promotion for her book, but she was sensitive about her looks. She did not appreciate that her accomplice had "embellished" his story just a little TOO well.
I could go on. As Lennon sang it, "all I can tell you is...it's all show biz."
I'm not perfect, but I never worked for the tabloids and didn't want to lie for a byline. I turned down assignments sometimes, and other times, refused to put myself into the story, even if, in a Williams or O'Reilly way, I could fog the difference between "I saw it" on tape and "I saw it" in person.
When I worked as a photographer, covering celebrity events, I also refused to hand over "ugly" pictures of celebrities. My photo agency said, "Give us the ones where the star's eyes are half shut. We can sell it to the tabloids for when they do an article on a "drunken celebrity." Matching a real photo to a fake story? No thanks. Other photographers didn't have my ethics, and I didn't feel so superior about that. Just irked sometimes.
For example, I was covering a party where an actress was decked out in a sexy outfit, but it was TOO sexy. She was having a wardrobe malfunction. The male photographers weren't sure what the hell to do. Any picture they took of her couldn't be printed, except in a men's magazine. To go over and say, "About that nipple..." was not exactly a great option. Fortunately, there was a female photographer. "Go over and tell her..."
Well, the female photographer went over, took a whole bunch of incriminating pix, and then feigned, "Oh...look what just happened..." and got the star to cover up. She took more pictures.
Naturally the dirty ones, which she sold for a lot of money to the men's mags, didn't have her credit on them. Meanwhile the rest of us tried to sell the clean pix we took, and as usual, it was more a case of whose photo agency a magazine favored, and who had the lowest price, than who took the better pictures.
Back to this O'Reilly matter, now on the front page of every paper.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I was actually a guest on O'Reilly's show once. He did his gruff, tough question bit, I answered, and that was that. What I found most remarkable was a) that he IS very tall, and b) the guests all had to be lathered in very dark make-up, which amazingly balanced out perfectly under the blinding lights. It was one of my better appearances, at least physically. And no, I didn't "lie" or say anything that remotely stretched the truth. Which may have been why I lasted only one segment.
I enjoyed my experience and my "credit" in being enough of a celebrity to get on his show. But if he really did something outrageous, I'd say so. All he did was, well, "puff." He's done what journalists do, whether everyone likes it or not.
The Captain Renault aspect of these witch hunts..."I am SHOCKED, SHOCKED that Williams lied...that O'Reilly is claiming things that didn't happen..." is noble. I can't fully endorse the Christ-like view that only those without sin should cast the first stone. We all struggle with morality and legality. But in these days, and in fact in the history of journalism, "stretching" the truth and "gray area" reporting have always been with us. From critics giving bad reviews to their enemies (how about Rufus Griswold's vicious and mostly untrue obituary on Edgar A. Poe) to these current complaints in the video age, we see that the truth is always difficult to find. How about watching a boxing match and then reading three or four different accounts, each unintentionally or intentionally slanted to the point where you wonder if everyone was watching the same fight?
"I think Brian Williams is a great guy who has never intentionally lied," says a source. "O'Reilly? He's just doing what reporters do, and giving the viewer or reader a more dramatic view of a news item," reports a pal.
The "source" I just quoted? Me. Hey, I'm a source. People have used me as a source lots of time. Why can't I use myself as a source? Ethics? What's that?
"The pal" I quoted for Bill O'Reilly? That's also me, because I consider O'Reilly a pal. I did chat with him once, right? It was nice of him to have me on his show. So he's a pal. Although...I might just be stretching it.