W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Fox News’

Both left, right embrace media myth about WaPo and Watergate

In Debunking, Error, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on April 8, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Curious thing about the media myth of Watergate: The notion that the Washington Post’s dogged reporting toppled Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency is readily embraced both by liberals and conservatives.

FoxNewsSunday_logoThe most recent example of this tendency  came yesterday, on the “Power Player of the Week” segment of the Fox News Sunday program.

The “Power Player” segment featured Martin Baron, who’s been executive editor of the Washington Post for a little more than three months. It was a fair-minded look at a respected, veteran journalist; Baron was a top editor at the Miami Herald and the Boston Globe before joining the Post at the start of the year.

But whether Baron truly is a “power player” in Washington is speculative. What most interests Media Myth Alert was how the Watergate myth was blithely injected into the Fox News Sunday segment.

In his voice-over introducing the segment, the show’s host, Chris Wallace flatly and inaccurately asserted that the Post is “the paper that brought down Richard Nixon.”

It’s a not uncommon characterization. But it’s utterly exaggerated — and thoroughly undeserved.

As I note in my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, it’s an interpretation of Watergate that not even the Post embraces.

Some of the Post’s leading figures over the years have openly dismissed the notion that the newspaper’s reporting of Watergate ended Nixon’s presidency. (He resigned in 1974.)

For example, Katharine Graham, the Post’s publisher during Watergate, said in 1997:

Not the Post's doing

Not the Post’s doing

“Sometimes people accuse us of bringing down a president, which of course we didn’t do. The processes that caused [Nixon’s] resignation were constitutional.”

In addition, the newspaper’s then-media writer, Howard Kurtz, asserted in 2005:

“Despite the mythology, The Post didn’t force Richard Nixon from office — there were also two special prosecutors, a determined judge, bipartisan House and Senate committees … and those infamous White House tapes.”

If not for the tapes — the secret audio recordings Nixon made of many of his conversations in the Oval Office — Nixon likely would have survived the scandal.

The Post, by the way, did not disclose the existence of the tapes, which demonstrated that Nixon had sought to derail the FBI’s investigation of Watergate’ signal crime — the burglary in June 1972 at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.

The existence of the tapes — evidence that was so pivotal to the scandal’s outcome — was made known in July 1973 by Alexander Butterfield, under questioning by investigators of a Senate select committee.

There’s more to deplore here than a Sunday TV show’s puffing up one of its segments by declaring the Post “brought down Richard Nixon.” The Watergate myth is more insidious than that.

It is a disservice to history: The Watergate myth distorts and dumbs down what was the most significant American political scandal of the 20th century.

And it extends to journalists the unmerited status of having been heroic central actors in exposing the crimes of Watergate.


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Liz Trotta mangles Jessica Lynch ‘fairy tale’

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on February 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

Veteran broadcast journalist Liz Trotta went on Fox News yesterday to condemn plans to ease restrictions on women in Army combat positions.

In doing so, Trotta referred to — and mangled — key elements of the saga of Jessica Lynch, the Army private thrust into an international spotlight by a newspaper’s botched report about her battlefield heroics in Iraq in March 2003.

Trotta said in an appearance on the Fox program “America’s News HQ” that “the political correctness infecting the Pentagon has resulted in silly and dishonest fairy tales about female heroism. Has anyone forgotten the Jessica Lynch story?

“A PFC captured by the Iraqis and by all accounts, including her own, not mistreated. Yet the Pentagon saw fit to send in the SEALs to rescue her from a hospital in a videotaped operation that seemed headed straight to Hollywood.”


Let’s call out the errors there: Lynch was mistreated, and videotaping her rescue was routine practice in high-priority military operations —  not done with Hollywood in mind.

By Lynch’s own account — contained in a book by Rick Bragg and titled I Am a Soldier, Too — she was knocked out in the crash of a Humvee in attempting to escape an ambush in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq. While unconscious, Lynch “was a victim of anal sexual assault,” the book says, adding:

“The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage [of the Humvee], or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead.”

She was rescued from an Iraqi hospital on April 1, 2003, in an operation that included not only Navy SEALS but Marines and Army Rangers as well.

It was the first rescue of a captured American solder from behind enemy lines since World War II.

I discuss the mythology of the Lynch case in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, noting that the Defense Department’s inspector general found no evidence to support the notion Lynch’s rescue “was a staged media event.”

The then-acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, said in a report to Congress in 2007 that the rescue operation was determined to have been “a valid mission” to recover a prisoner of war “under combat conditions.”

That the rescue was videotaped was not unusual, Gimble said, noting that combat cameramen routinely filmed high-priority operations. In the Lynch case, he said, there was “no indication that any service member was acting for the camera during the rescue mission.”

Gimble also said the extrication team “fully expected to meet stiff resistance” in mounting the rescue.

Trotta’s mangled account was the latest in a succession of erroneous characterizations about the Lynch case, which burst into prominence April 3, 2003, in a sensational, front-page report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper cited otherwise unidentified “U.S. officials” and said Lynch, a supply clerk, had fought fiercely in the ambush at Nasiriyah, that she had “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her ….”

The Post quoted one of the anonymous officials as saying: “She was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.”

But the report was bogus. Little of it was true.

Lynch, who was not in a combat unit, never fired a shot in the ambush; her weapon jammed.

Not was she shot, as the Post reported. She suffered shattering injuries in the crash of the Humvee.

The Post, moreover, has never adequately explained how it erred so utterly in its hero-warrior story about Lynch, a story that was picked up by news organizations around the world.

More recently, in an interview with Lynch last month, Fox News anchorman Shepard Smith claimed without providing evidence that “the government” had made up the tale about Lynch’s battlefield heroics in Iraq.

He ignored the singular role of the Washington Post in placing the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into the public domain.


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Fox News reiterates dubious Lynch-source claim, ignores WaPo role

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Washington Post on January 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Fox News repeated today its dubious claim about the source of the mythical hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch, saying without supporting evidence that the “U.S. government” was behind the bogus story.

The Fox News claim was offered in an online commentary posted four days after an anchor for the cable network, Shepard Smith, made a similarly vague assertion in a televised interview with Lynch.

In both the commentary and the interview, Fox ignored the singular role of the Washington Post in placing the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into the public domain in what was a sensational, front page story published April 3, 2003.

The Post erroneously reported that Lynch, an Army supply clerk, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq. In fact, Lynch never fired a shot in the attack.

In the years since, the Post has never fully explained how it got the story so utterly wrong, effectively permitting a tenacious false narrative to take hold that the “government” — or the “military” — concocted the story for cynical propaganda purposes.

The commentary posted today at the Fox News online site ruminated about the quality of heroes and declared:

“Truth is an unavoidable casualty in catastrophe.

“Just last week former Private Jessica Lynch appeared on the FOX News Channel to share her side of the story of her famous capture and rescue in Iraq in 2003. The U.S. government initially claimed that then 19-year-old Lynch kept firing her weapon during an Iraqi ambush on her convoy in which she was the lone survivor.”

As I noted at Media Myth Alert last week in discussing Smith’s comments, the inclination by commentators on the political left and the right has been to overlook  the journalistic origins of the bogus hero-warrior tale about Lynch and assign blame vaguely to such faceless entities as “the government” or “the military.”

I further noted that never when such claims are raised is a specific culprit singled out. Just as rarely is the Post’s botched reporting on the bogus hero-warrior tale recalled or much discussed.

But quite simply, to ignore the Post’s central role in the tale about Lynch is to mislead and to assign fault improperly.

The Post’s report about Lynch was published beneath the headline:

“‘She was fighting to the death.'”

The report cited “U.S. officials” as sources in saying:

“Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting” in Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003.

While the Post has never specifically identified the “U.S. officials” to whom it referred in the Lynch story, it is clear the Pentagon had little to do with pushing or promoting the story.

We know this from Vernon Loeb, one of the Post reporters on the botched story about Lynch.

In an interview on an NPR program in December 2003, Loeb referred to the newspaper’s  sources on the Lynch story as “some really good intelligence sources here in Washington” who had received “indications that she had, you know, fired back and resisted her capture and actually been shot and possibly stabbed doing so.”

Loeb also said:

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.  And, in fact, I could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those [battlefield intelligence] reports at all. I got indications that they had, in fact, received those intelligence reports, but the Pentagon was completely unwilling to comment on those reports at all.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.

“I’ve never believed that, at least as far as the story we wrote goes, that it was a Pentagon attempt to create a hero there.”

And as I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, Loeb on another occasion was quoted as saying:

”Far from promoting stories about Lynch, the military didn’t like the story.”

So from where did this false narrative arise about Lynch?

A contributing factor certainly was the claim by best-selling author Jon Krakauer, who inaccurately asserted that the Post’s source was a former White House official named Jim Wilkinson. In 2003, Wilkinson was director of strategic communications for General Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

In his 2009 book,  Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, Krakauer wrote that Wilkinson was “a master propagandist” who “duped reporters and editors at the Washington Post.”

Wilkinson vigorously denied the unattributed claims and Krakauer last year quietly rolled back the assertions. A correction was inserted in a recent printing of the paperback edition of Where Men Win Glory, stating:

“Earlier editions of this book stated that it was Jim Wilkinson ‘who arranged to give the Washington Post exclusive access’ to this leaked intelligence [about Jessica Lynch]. This is incorrect. Wilkinson had nothing to do with the leak.”


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Fox News misremembers Watergate and ‘follow the money’

In Cinematic treatments, Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on August 16, 2011 at 9:20 am

I’ve referred to “follow the money” as Watergate’s best-known made-up line.

It also can be thought of as Watergate’s best-known misremembered line.

I say that because a Fox News commentary posted yesterday thoroughly misremembered the phrase as having been part of the “media circus” of Watergate in the months before the scandal reached its denouement with Richard Nixon’s resignation in August 1974.

The Fox commentary declared:

“America was transfixed for months by [Watergate-related] televised hearings presided over by the colorful Sen. Sam Ervin. … We learned about the mysterious insider, pornographically code-named ‘Deep Throat’ murmuring intriguing clues like ‘Follow the Money….’ It was a media circus.”

But as I’ve noted at Media Myth Alert, follow the money” was not part of the vernacular of Watergate. It was never offered as advice — murmured or otherwise — by the stealthy “Deep Throat” source, who met periodically with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post as the scandal unraveled.

(The identity of “Deep Throat” remained a secret for more than 30 years until W. Mark Felt, a former top FBI official, self-identified himself as having been Woodward’s secret source during Watergate.)

What’s more, “follow the money” appeared in no Watergate-related article or editorial in the Post until June 1981.

Nor is the line to be found in All the President’s Men, the book Woodward and his Post colleague, Carl Bernstein, wrote about their Watergate reporting.

The phrase exists only in the movies — in the cinematic version of All the President’s Men, which came out in April 1976.

Follow the money” was written into the screenplay of All the President’s Men and spoken by the actor Hal Holbrook, who turned in a memorable performance as “Deep Throat.”

Holbrook intoned “follow the money” with such steely assurance that it did indeed seemed to suggest a way — however simplistic — to unravel the scandal.

But even if “Deep Throat”/Felt had counseled Woodward to “follow the money,” the advice would have neither unraveled Watergate nor led the reporter to Nixon.

Nixon quit the presidency not because he misused campaign funds; he resigned in disgrace after it became clear he had sought to obstruct justice by covering up the signal crime of Watergate, the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in June 1972.

As I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, rolling up a scandal of the dimension and complexity of Watergate required “the collective if not always the coordinated forces of special prosecutors, federal judges, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.

“Even then,” I write, “Nixon likely would have served out his term if not for the audiotape recordings he secretly made of most conversations in the Oval Office of the White House.

“Only when compelled by the Supreme Court did Nixon surrender those recordings, which captured him plotting the cover-up” — which cost him the presidency.


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