Friday, October 26, 2012

How a journalistic icon covered an election year scandal

Media apologists offer two arguments for refusing to cover the Benghazi attack and its many unanswered questions:

1. People don’t care
2. It’s too close to the election.

I think this piece by Alcia Shepherd is relevant on both counts.
If Walter Cronkite Said It Was A Story, It Was

First, I think it is easy to mistake “don’t care” with “haven’t heard about it.” The average citizen is very different from the news junkies who work in newsrooms.

Nixon campaign operatives broke into the Democratic headquarters inside the Watergate building on June 17, 1972. The Washington Post and others jumped on the story initially but it still didn't have much traction four months later. A Gallup poll in October 1972 showed that 48 percent of the country did not recognize the word Watergate.
Second, Walter Cronkite was not afraid to take on the Watergate story during the 1972 election season.

The ground-breaking, two-part special ran on Oct. 27 and 31, 1972. These two stories were a turning point for the saga that would grip the nation for most of the next two years.

Cronkite's first piece ran for nearly 15 minutes in a 22-minute broadcast the unprecedented equivalent of a newspaper turning two-thirds of its front page over to one story. [The second story ran for 9 minutes.]

The CBS Evening News devoted over half of its air time over two nights to the Watergate story.

They did not just cover it, they demanded that viewers pay attention. At the time they had the biggest megaphone in the country and Cronkite used it days before the election.

America's most trusted newsman said Watergate was a story the nation should be interested it and therefore it was.

That’s a key element of “explanation space”: signifying what events are important and what events are not.

We are in a vicious circle”: The public doesn’t care because the MSM treats the story as unimportant. The deciders use public indifference as a reason to ignore the story.

Hmm…. Maybe this guy has a point.
Benghazi and Obama: the media is trying to shore up this desperate administration

Now it certainly can be argued that there is no story because there is no scandal. Right now facts are scarce and the big picture is obscure.

The same thing was true of Watergate in 1972. Ben Bradlee worried that the Post might be on a fool’s errand. He was reassured by superlawyer Edward Bennett Williams:

If they’re [the Nixon campaign]clean why don’t they show it? Why are there so many lies? I’ll tell you why. Because you’ve got them.

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