March 6, 2015

Hemingway, O’Reilly, Murrow

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:29 pm

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According to legend, Ernest Hemingway arrived in Paris three days before the Allied Armies did. A trip to Paris in 1986 seemed like a great opportunity to do the fan’s attempt to conjure up the spirit of the famous writer but we did not anticipate a chance to do any serious fact checking. While visiting Harry’s New York Bar, an old fellow caught us off guard when he said that he had inherited the place from his father and when he, the present owner, was a child, he had sat on Mr. Hemingway’s lap while the famous writer told stories. We were so engrossed in his descriptions of the repeated encounters with the young but already famous writer, that we missed the chance to ask him if Hemingway had actually arrived before the Allied Armies. The Liberty Valance rule made doing any fact checking seem like heresy. When facts and legend contradict each other, always print the legend.

Recently Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly had become a subject for fact checking by his associates and the consensus opinion seems to be that there is a credibility gap being generated which, in turn, tarnishes Fox News’ reputation.

Brian Williams has been suspended from the anchor chair at NBC Nightly News because he claims that he rode on a helicopter in a war zone that received enemy fire. The account has been challenged by others who are qualified to confirm or refute the specifics of Williams’ story.

Since Williams works for a news organization that is perceived as “pro-Liberal,” the conservatives are making the assertion that Williams has rendered NBC’s credibility to the nil level.

If Charles Manson (hypothetically speaking) were to deliver a news report that provided undeniable evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald was not working alone when he shot JFK, would the fact that most people do not approve of Manson’s ethics and personal conduct be sufficient to invalidate the remarkable report?

There is a certain amount of irony to be derived from noticing that the two different reactions to the veracity of the two journalist comes at the same time that CBS will mark the sixty-first anniversary of what many consider to be the high water mark for American Journalism: Edward R. Murrow’s report on Sen. Joseph McCarthy broadcast on March 9, 1954. (Google: “See It Now” McCarthy report)

During WWII, Murrow risked death and infuriated his bosses by going on a bombing mission over Berlin. (Google hint: “Edward Murrow orchestrated hell”)

Conservatives assert that Brian Williams has committed “stolen valor” with his bragging. They give full and complete absolution to O’Reilly and ignore the long list of war correspondents that died covering various wars over the course of history.

The conservative tendency for holding two opposing points of view simultaneously (called “double think” by George Orwell) can best be illustrated by the old axiom: “My wife’s married, but I’m not.”

Would Gerda Taro, Robert Capa, and Ernie Pyle be inclined to blithely dismiss the idea that O’Reilly is stealing valor from the list of war correspondents who were killed in action?

Speaking of war stories of valor and daring, we wonder how General Douglas McArthur got the nickname “Dugout Dug.”

Once, on NPR radio, we heard the story of a fellow who was assigned to defend a pass where an attack was expected. He had a machine gun and was credited with single handedly killing more than 600 enemy soldiers in one night. Some people think the guy should have gotten a Medal of Honor.

The fictional character Baron Munchausen was renowned for telling absurd stories that had an extreme flavor of outrageousness to them buttressed by a thread of logic that made them seem (theoretically) possible.

In a bookstore in San Francisco, earlier this week, we noticed a new book which promised to teach the art of storytelling to sales reps.

St. Ronald Reagan was a superb story teller. He told one story about campaigning for President in Iowa. He knocked on a farmer’s door and when the fellow was flabbergasted by his famous caller, he had a senior moment and couldn’t think of the former actor’s name. St. Reagan gave the baffled fan a clue: “Do the initials R R help?” The fellow broke into a large smile and turned and shouted into the interior of the home: “Momma, come quick and meet Roy Rogers!”

Misleading people for fun and votes might seem a tad misguided to some journalists. The philosophy that “we report; and let you decide” is a bit deceptive because it assumes that everyone in the audience is capable of doing their own quality analysis. “We distort and let you jump to wrong conclusions” would be a more ingenuous slogan.

Here is an exaggerated tale of why that isn’t a good policy: A person you know slightly tells you that your business partner is having an affair with your wife and is cooking the books and robbing you blind. Fair enough? Just suppose that the rest of the story is that the guy was setting you up. You killed your business partner and then while you were in prison the tell all Good Samaritan marries your now ex-wife and you learn that your business partner was an innocent bystander. The guy who filled your ears with lies had an ulterior motive. You leaped to some erroneous conclusions and took action. Would you have acted differently if you knew the “reporter” was trying to trick you?

The fact that most high-school graduates don’t challenge the logic of “we report; you decide” is a preposterous situation. The results could be just as bad as they were in the hypothetical story above. Who doesn’t love being the butt of an old fashioned practical joke?

Doesn’t Bill O’Reilly work for an organization that went to court and established that it has a legal right to tell lies in the guise of supplying facts for citizens to make informed judgments?

After hearing a stream of news reports about bad snowstorms causing all kinds of closures and disruptions of service for people living on the USA’s East Coast, we were a bit disconcerted to hear news reports that during the same time frame new car sales were good and that new jobs were created. Has skepticism earned a place on the endangered species list?

On Friday March 6, 2015, the Getty and Armstrong radio show reported that the “hands up; don’t shoot” meme was inaccurate and had not actually occurred.

Hemingway was boastful and may have exaggerated some of his accomplishments. His fans don’t want to be burdened with the odious task of doing some precise fact checking to separate the hard facts from the legends. Brian Williams worked for a liberal news organization and is being punished severely. Bill O’Reilly is getting the rich kid pass from an indulgent father responseto what he has done. “Now run along and play!”

[Note from the photo editor. A montage image is the best we could do this week.]

Here is the quote of the week. When the woman combat photographer Dickey Chappelle complained about mosquitoes buzzing around her while taking pictures on Iwo Jima, a Marine corrected her misperception: “Those wasn’t mosquitoes, ma’am, they was Japanese bullets.

Now the disk jockey will play “Who shot Liberty Valance,” “Do not forsake me,” and the theme from TV’s “Gun Smoke.” We have to go start our own urban legends. Have a “good night and good luck” type week.

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