Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

WILL THE PRESS CORPS MAINTAIN ITS GREAT VIGILANCE? It’s now clear that the students were falsely charged. Will the press corps pursue this new story?


WILL THE PRESS CORPS MAINTAIN ITS GREAT VIGILANCE? America’s wonderfully brave cable press corps jumped into action last Friday morning, when three very-dangerous medical students were accused of severe wrongdoing. But now that the facts have begun to emerge, will our press corps maintain its great vigilance? Here was part of Tuesday’s Crossfire. The students denied a much-bruited charge:

NOVAK (9/17/02): Mr. Choudhary, why did you blow through the toll gate on I-35 without paying a toll?

CHOUDHARY: Actually, I wasn’t the driver of the car.

NOVAK: Who was the driver?

BUTT: I was driving the car.

NOVAK: Well, why did you blow through the toll gate?

BUTT: I didn’t blow through the toll. Actually, I stopped at the toll, paid it, paid the lady. I noticed that she was very nervous. I noticed there was a squad car almost at the corner of the toll booth waiting for us. Paid the toll, pulled out and within about five to 10 miles, we got pulled over.

NEWKIRK: You will actually see proof of this very soon. We’ve been in conversations today, David Kabiliun, my partner in Miami, Florida, I was in conversations with Sheriff Hunter who claims that he has copies of the tape from the toll booth, but he just hasn’t had time to review them yet. I think we’d all like to see that tape.

NOVAK: I want to make this point. You are saying flatly that you did not blow through the toll booth without paying a fine? Is that correct?

BUTT: Absolutely.

From Day One, the students denied the persistent charge that they evaded the toll. Now, the facts have begun to emerge—in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times, for example:
LOS ANGELES TIMES (9/19/02): Police dismissed a traffic citation against one of three Muslim medical students interrogated as terrorist suspects in a false alarm last week, the men’s lawyer said Wednesday.

The men’s lawyer, David Kubiliun, said Collier Sheriff Don Hunter notified him Wednesday that authorities had voided the ticket after reviewing a videotape that showed him paying the toll. “It’s conclusive that Mr. Butt did not run that toll plaza,” Kubiliun said. “This is just further evidence that the young men have been telling the truth all along.”

A sheriff’s dispatcher could not immediately comment late Wednesday.

Over and over, pundits and reporters repeated the charge that one of the students’ two cars blew through the toll. The assertion was used to build suspicion that the men were up to no good. But how much effort will now be made to inform the public that the charge was false? So far the efforts have been spotty. As of Friday morning, for example, the Associated Press still hasn’t reported the fact that this charge was bogus. As a result, even journalists sympathetic to the medical students have been unable to inform their readers. Yesterday, for example, Salt Lake City’s Deseret Times wrote an editorial lamenting the treatment the three men received. “More and more, it is becoming evident that the incident was a regrettable misunderstanding,” the paper wrote. But even in defending the medical students, the paper continued to cite the toll booth charges. “[T]he men were detained for 17 hours…after one of the vehicles allegedly passed through a Florida toll booth without paying,” the editorial said.

How did the bogus charge get its start? Don’t expect your big bold press corps to get involved in solving that riddle. Last Friday, your cable press corps was eager to slime three members of the latest despised group. Cowards and bullies—and hopeless incompetents—the boys and girls of your mainstream press are highly unlikely to ask the police to explain their inaccurate accusations.

HOW DOES PROPAGANDA WORK? What is the role of seemingly minor charges when propaganda attacks are assembled? On last night’s Abrams Report (MSNBC), Dan Abrams provided some insight. On Wednesday, Abrams had asked his viewers to state their opinion as to who was “telling the truth” about the Shoney’s brouhaha—the medical students or Eunice Stone, their accuser. Last night, the results were in—64 percent supported Stone, 25 percent supported the medical students. (A woeful 8 percent said that Stone may have simply misunderstood what she heard.) But Abrams offered an intriguing aside. He played the newly-available surveillance tape which showed that the men had in fact paid their tolls. “Now, a lot of the people who supported Eunice were saying, ‘But what about the fact that they blew through the toll booth,’” Abrams said. In short, Abrams’ viewers had reached a global judgment about the three men based on this small, bogus charge.

What was the source of this bogus accusation? Don’t expect the mainstream press to pursue such a bad, naughty question. But where does propaganda come from? Minor but highly accessible charges can poison the waters around a target. So it went all during Campaign 2000, when the press corps advanced an endless array of trivial charges again despised hopeful Gore. Silly, small charges help poison the waters concerning a target of press corps wrath. We saw it last week with the three Muslim men. We also saw it, again and again, all during Campaign 2000. So it routinely went as your mainstream “press corps” pretended to cover your election.

NOTHING NEW: By happenstance, Howard Kurtz’s on-line post today concerns that same Al Gore. For some reason, he starts off like this:

KURTZ: Warning: What follows is mostly unvarnished speculation.

(And with that, we can say pretty much whatever pops into our head.)

“We can say pretty much whatever pops into our heads?” Howie, Howie—where have you been? More specifically, when was the last time the mainstream press didn’t take that approach to Al Gore?

AND THEN THERE’S THIS APPALLING PERFORMANCE: Check out this stunning column by OpinionJournal’s Peggy Noonan. Speaking of the Shoney’s incident, Noonan gives a perfect picture of the way your “press corps” functions:

NOONAN: I wasn’t there, but I listened to everyone who spoke of it and watched the story closely. And it’s not hard to imagine what probably happened that day at Shoney's.
“I wasn’t there,” Noonan says, but it’s easy to imagine what happened. In that statement, Noonan reveals the inexcusable procedures of your modern, appalling “press corps.”

Has Noonan “watched the story closely?” In fact, her column betrays utter ignorance. For example, noting that Eunice Stone was treated for stress, Noonan writes, “Ms. Stone is said to be recuperating at home.” In fact, Stone is long since fully recovered; she was on national TV, recovered, on Tuesday night. Noonan—imagining what probably happened, and urging you to hate three medical students—has no idea what she’s talking about. She is telling the story she likes.

Noonan is an admitted fantasist. We now enter a dangerous time, equipped with a press corps which functions like this—a press corps which finds it “easy to imagine.” But then, this has been the case for some time; the corps also found it “easy to imagine” all throughout Campaign 2000. Question: Has a democracy ever tried to function in the absence of a real press corps? That is our troubling situation as we look ahead to a dangerous war.