HOW THE MEDIA CHEATS
By Bill Sizemore
April 28, 2004
Have you ever seen or heard a conservative interviewed on a television or radio news show and thought to yourself: That was pretty weak. Surely, he could have found something better to say than that.
I confess that I used to make remarks like that myself, but I am not so quick to do so anymore. I have learned from experience that often, the real reason our side sounds so weak or our arguments have no real punch, has nothing to do with who's doing the speaking for our side. The real problem is, the game is rigged.
Over the years, I have done literally thousands of interviews with newspaper, television, and radio reporters. In this column, I want to communicate, based on my personal experience, how the system actually works, or more specifically, how the game is fixed in favor of the other side.
You see, the quote you heard on the nightly news or read in your morning newspaper was probably the weakest four-second statement the conservative made in an interview that probably lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 minutes. During the course of that 15-minute interview, our guy probably reeled off some real zingers. It is quite likely that he or she even waxed eloquent at times. If you would have been there, you would have been proud. The problem is, it was all for naught.
You see, the public rarely sees, hears, or reads the really good stuff that conservatives say. The good stuff all gets edited out before the story is published or broadcasted.
Here's how it works: During the interview, our side makes its case, employing great passion and logic, explaining carefully all the merits of our position. Then, after the interview is concluded, the reporter heads back to the station or newsroom, where he or an editor reviews the interview and chooses which four-second to eight-second segment to actually use in the story.
Because the ones choosing which quote will actually be used in the story tend to be liberals, the quotes representing our side of the story tend to be weak or mediocre. When you deal with the liberal media, you should know up front: They donít want our side to come across as reasonable or persuasive. That's not why they are conducting the interview. They are conducting the interview with the conservative, because they want to make it appear to the public that both sides were given the chance to make their case, but the conservatives just couldn't.
Allow me to state this again, a different way: The interview with the conservative was just for show. Liberals in the media wants to make it appear that they are fair in their coverage of the news. They want the public to think that they are getting both sides of the story and that the coverage is balanced, but it's all a ruse.
This subterfuge is actually quite easy for them to pull off. You see, the average story on the nightly news, whether it's a radio or television news show, is only about 60 to 90 seconds in length, sometimes even less. When a political story comes on during the nightly news, watch and see for yourself how long the average quote is. Use a stopwatch. Four seconds? Eight seconds? Thatís about it. If it's a slow news day, we might get 10 to 15 seconds, but don't count on that happening very often.
We usually get about half of a sentence to make our case, which means the quote that aired on the nightly news or was printed in the local newspaper represents less than one percent of the actual interview, and we don't get to pick which four seconds it will be. They do. Our opponents do.
You see, the liberal editors serve as the gatekeepers of public opinion. Every day of every week and every week of the year, there they are, sitting at their desks and computers in newsrooms all across the nation, filtering the news; censoring it, picking the stories, picking the quotes, all aimed at shaping public opinion to conform to their own leftist worldview.
Believe me, in practice, the gross unfairness of the news media is extremely frustrating. Hundreds of times, after the microphones and cameras were turned off and the reporters had left, my staff have told me what a great job I did in the interview and how powerful some of my sound bites were. However, no matter how well the interview went, no matter how good we felt about it, we all knew that the whole thing was an exercise in futility.
We all knew that none of the good stuff, none of the home run, "knock the ball out of the park" quotes would ever make it into the story. We knew that instead some weak, mediocre quote would be chosen to represent our side. That's how liberals in the media cheat. Thatís how they undermine conservative arguments, while appearing to be fair and unbiased. Though I have made thousands of them, I have very rarely had a good quote used in an actual news story. They media almost always cheat.
I remember a television interview I once did on a tax cutting measure. The interview went well, and I made a strong case for our side. When the story aired that night, however, not only was the quote they picked for me the weakest they could have found, but my opponent, the superintendent of the Portland School District, was shown in soft amber colored light that created a warm, homey feeling about him, while I was shown in harsh, bright light that made my face look like the mug shot of a hardened criminal. I didn't know until then just how ugly I could look on camera. I actually looked like the kind of guy who didnít care a lick about kids or education.
Not only did the station pick the weakest quote they could find, but they even created the "feeling" that the school superintendent was the good guy and the conservative was the harsh guy, just by the type of lighting they chose.
Over the decades that I have observed the media in action, I have concluded that their bias against conservatives is not a fluke. It is not an occasional thing. Most reporters and editors misrepresent the views of conservatives so consistently and with such malice that they simply must know what they are doing and must do so intentionally.
It is also clear to me that the major media networks have all but abandoned any sense of journalistic ethics. They are on a campaign to rid the world of the "cancer" of conservativism, so in their minds, that "worthwhile" goal justifies all of their dastardly deeds. Their cheating is not an evil thing to them, because they see the destruction of the conservative movement as a worthy cause. They are just being good soldiers in a "just" war.
Following are two examples of extreme media bias, beginning with an interview I once did with what used to be called the McNeil/Lehrer hour on public television.
Public Broadcasting contacted me regarding an interview, saying that they wanted to do a segment on the use of paid signature gatherers on ballot measure petition drives. Because I was at the time one of the better known initiative practitioners in the country and was in the process of gathering signatures for several measures, the McNeil/Lehrer Hour sent a freelance crew to Portland, Oregon to interview me.
Before meeting with me, they first went to some of the more outspoken opponents of paid signature gathering, and got their side of the story. As you might imagine, the anti paid petitioning side is frankly a pretty easy case to make, at least at first glance. You probably know how it goes: "Get the big money and all of those mercenary, paid petitioners out of the initiative process and return it to the grassroots voice of the everyday people it used to be back in the good old days." Sound pretty convincing.
Of course, when their crew interviewed me, they hit me with all of the objections to paid petitioning that they had heard from the local critics. However, to the apparent surprise of the crew from the McNeil/Lehrer show, one by one, I countered and neutralized every single objection the critics had raised.
I told them that paying circulators was not a modern day invention, but that back when the initiative process first began in the early 1900s, the first people employing it used paid circulators, and in fact, paid more money per signature back in 1912 than we pay now, in constant dollars.
I explained to them, using plenty of facts and figures to back me up, that about 90 percent of the time, it costs more to do a signature drive using volunteers than to do a signature drive using paid circulators. In fact, in one election cycle in Oregon, using paid petitioners, I placed a constitutional measure on the ballot for substantially less money than the Secretary of State spent placing a mere statutory measure on the same ballot, and his was an all volunteer drive!
That's right. For a third less money, I collected 25 percent more signatures than the Secretary of State did conducting his all "volunteer" drive.
I realize that statement is counterintuitive, but believe it or not, for reasons that would take too much space to explain in this article, that's the way it works in the real world, all across the country. Paid signature drives almost always cost a lot less than volunteer drives.
So, I told the folks from McNeil/Lehrer that if you want to get the big money out of the initiative process, you ought to encourage paying circulators, not outlaw them.
At any rate, the interview with the McNeil/Lehrer freelance reporter and camera crew went so well that they actually asked me to do the entire interview all over again. They told me that my arguments were so persuasive that they would like to film the entire interview over again with a better background and with better lighting, because this was going to be a very interesting story. And so we did.
Weeks passed, then, when the segment finally aired on national television, guess how much of my interview actually aired? Four seconds, you say? Eight seconds? Nope. Not so much as one word. They showed my face for a few seconds, denigrated me a bit, and then showed the other side making their "powerful" case against paid petitioning. Nothing I said was used anywhere in the story. The fix was on.
The McNeil/Lehrer crowd had an agenda from the get go and there was no way some honest, freelance reporter and camera crew was going to present any version of the truth other than the one Public Broadcasting wanted aired.
Needless to say, I didn't do any more interviews with McNeil/Liar after that. Why bother.
Here is another real life example of media cheating: In 1998, prior to the gubernatorial election I was debating the governor of Oregon, a liberal Democrat named John Kitzhaber. The debate took place in Medford, Oregon and the entire event was filmed by Oregon Public Broadcasting for statewide broadcast.
Just before the debate began, officials from OPB met with both sides and confirmed their previous commitment that the debate would air that night, statewide, during prime time on all of their Oregon affiliates. During the debate, all went reasonably well for both sides, until the closing arguments.
The governor went first. In his closing remarks, John Kitzhaber made some disparaging remarks about a successful property tax measure that I had authored and sponsored two years earlier. His criticisms, which I took personally, were made of course from the perspective of a big government, tax and spend liberal, angry that my measure had taken a billion dollars out of government budgets.
I was not about to let the governor get away with that kind of spin. When my turn came, I laid aside my prepared closing remarks and talked instead about the same measure the governor had criticized. I told the story of a little old lady who, during the campaign, had mailed me a contribution of only $1.00 to help us pass the measure.
I told of how, in very shaky handwriting, the elderly woman had apologized for sending such a meager donation, and how her letter explained that her property taxes were now so high that it took her entire social security check to pay them. I explained that in her letter she told me that she sold honey from her bees and eggs from her chickens to pay the utility bill each month and to buy food.
She concluded her heartrending story by telling me that we just had to pass our property tax measure, or she was going to lose the home that she had lived in for more than 50 years.
It was a powerful story, and I managed to tell it with the emotion it deserved. Too bad for me.
As I was winding up my closing remarks, I noticed that the governorís chief of staff left his seat and walked over to the booth where the Oregon Public Broadcasting people were sitting and whispered something to them.
The debate concluded and as the governor and I shook hands, he said to me quietly, "Powerful close, Bill." Then we parted.
Moments later, the OPB spokesman came up to me and informed me that the debate would air on Sunday night at 11:00. Eleven o'clock on Sunday night? Yeah, that's right. It would air late at night, when no one would be watching.
Before the debate, when they thought the governor would probably give me a good lickin', the debate was scheduled to air during prime time on a weeknight. One hour later, when it was obvious that the governor had not won the debate, his friends at Public Broadcasting moved the airing of the debate to a time slot when the number of viewers would be minimal.
Do I think OPB cheated to help their liberal friend, the governor? Of course, I do. They cheated just like the McNeil/Lehrer Hour cheated when they edited my entire two-hour interview out of their one-sided story on paid petitioning, and just like I have seen reporters do a thousand other times.
Liberals in the media usually make sure that our side has a chance to make our case in interviews, but they also make sure that nobody ever hears it.
© 2004 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
"Most reporters and editors misrepresent the views of conservatives so consistently and with such malice that they simply must know what they are doing and must do so intentionally."