September 14, 1972 Fake but Accurate

The political process fails us when those we trust to provide the “news” act as advocates, instead of honest conduits of information.

On September 8, 2004, CBS News aired a 60 Minutes™ program hosted by News Anchor Dan Rather, centered on four documents critical of President George W. Bush’s National Guard service in 1972-‘73.  It was less than two months before the 2004 Presidential election.

The documents were supposed to have been written by Bush’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, who was unavailable for comment.  Lt. Col. Killian passed away, in 1984.

GW-Bush-in-uniformThe documents came from Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, a former Texas Army National Guard officer who had received publicity back in 2000, when he claimed to have been transferred to Panama after refusing to falsify then-Governor Bush’s personnel records. Burkett later retracted the claim, but popped up again during the 2004 election cycle. Many considered the man to be an “anti-Bush zealot”.

Within hours of the broadcast, the documents were criticized as forgeries. Internet fora and blogs challenged the terminology and typography of the memos. Within days it came out that the font used in the memos didn’t even exist, at the time the documents were supposed to have been written.

That didn’t stop the Boston Globe from running a story entitled “Authenticity Backed on Bush Documents”, a story it was later forced to retract.

Criticism of the 60 Minutes’ piece intensified, as CBS News and Dan Rather dug in and defended their story. Within the week, Rather was talking to a Daily Kos contributor and former typewriter repairman who claimed that the documents could have been written in the 70s.

danratMeanwhile, the four “experts” used in the original story were publicly repudiating the 60 Minutes piece.

Other aspects of the documents were difficult to authenticate without the originals. CBS had nothing but faxes and photocopies.  Burkett claimed to have burned the originals after faxing them to the network.

The New York Times interviewed Marian Carr Knox, then-secretary to the squadron in 1972, running a story dated September 14 under the bylines of Maureen Balleza and Kate Zernike. The headline read “Memos on Bush Are Fake but Accurate, Typist Says“.

The story went on to describe the 86 year-old Carr’s recollections that she never typed the memos, but they accurately reflected Lt. Col. Killian’s sentiments. “I think he was writing the memos”, she said, “so there would be some record that he was aware of what was going on and what he (Bush) had done.”

ratherYet Killian’s wife and son had cleared out his office after his death, and neither found anything so much as hinting at the existence of such documents. Others who claimed to know Carr well described her as a “sweet old lady”, but said they had “no idea” where those comments had come from.

CBS News would ultimately retract the story, as it came out that Producer Mary Mapes collaborated on it with the Kerry campaign. Several network news people lost their jobs, including Dan Rather himself, and Mapes.

1101880208_400Public confidence in the “Mainstream Media” plummeted. Many saw the episode as a news network lying, and the “Newspaper of Record” swearing by it.

“Conservative” news sources like PJ Media rose from the ashes of the scandal, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that a bunch of bloggers “in their jammies”, had uncovered in a matter of hours, what the vaunted news gathering apparatus of CBS News failed to figure out in weeks.

That the mainstream media “filters” the news, is neither a revelation, nor is it new. In 1932-’33, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty reported on Josef Stalin’s deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians, known as “Holodomor”. “Extermination by hunger”. With 25,000 starving to death every day, Duranty won a Pulitzer with such gems as: “There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.” – (Nov. 15, 1931), and, “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” – (Aug. 23, 1933).

The 1993 NBC Dateline “Exploding Truck” edition didn’t get the desired effect when it crash tested General motor’s pickup truck, so the network rigged another with a pyrotechnic device. Sure enough, that one exploded, right on cue. The “Exposé” was pure BS masquerading as “News”, but hey. The explosion made for good television.

In a transparent attack on an administration with which it had political disagreements, the New York Times ran the Abu Ghraib story on the front page, above the fold, for 32 days straight. Just in case anyone might have missed the first 31.

And who can forget that racially incendiary, edited audio from George Zimmermann’s 911 call, or those photoshopped images, of the man’s head. Thank you, NBC.

If the point requires further proof, watch ABC News Charlie Gibson’s 2008 interview with Sarah Palin, then read the transcript. Whether you like or don’t like Ms. Palin is irrelevant to the point. The transcript and the interview as broadcast, are two different things.

Fact or Fake concept, Hand flip wood cube change the word, April fools day

As I write, Hurricane Florence makes landfall, on the North Carolina coast.  A storm in which, three days ago, the Washington Post declared President Trump, to be “complicit”.

The political process fails us when those we trust to provide the “news” act as advocates, instead of honest conduits of information. The American system of self-government operates within a marketplace of ideas.  Such a system cannot properly function when those who would be its “watchdogs”, must themselves, be watched.  That may be the worst part of this whole sorry story.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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March 2, 1977 Heeere’s Johnny

The world’s longest running talk show began in 1954, when Steve Allen sat down at his piano on September 27.  This show is gonna go on… forever”, Allen quipped.  So far, he seems to have gotten that right.

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Johnny Carson, Navy portrait

With Jack Parr about to sign off the “Tonight Show” for the last time, NBC executives were anxious to find a replacement.  Bob Newhart, Jackie Gleason, Groucho Marx, and Joey Bishop all declined the opportunity, when a United States Navy veteran, amateur magician and amateur boxer with a 10/0 record agreed to take the job.

Back when late-night comedians were expected to be funny, Johnny Carson had misgivings, believing himself unequal to the task of producing 90 minutes of fresh content, every day.

A series of guest hosts followed including Merv Griffin, Art Linkletter, Joey Bishop, Jerry Lewis and Groucho Marx, as Carson finished out the last six months of a contract with ABC.  Despite his apprehensions, Carson started the new gig on October 1, 1962.

No sooner had NBC announced that Johnny Carson would be joining “The Tonight Show,” than the national press gaggle came after him, looking for interviews. Paradoxically, the future “King of late night comedy” was averse to publicity.  Carson resisted at first, but finally relented, providing a list of answers to which journalists could apply any question they pleased:

  • “Yes, I did”.
  • “Not a bit of truth in that rumor”.
  • “Only twice in my life, both times on Saturday”.
  • “I can do either, but prefer the first”.
  • “NO”.
  • “Kumquats”.
  • “I can’t answer that question”.
  • “Toads and tarantulas”.
  • “Turkestan, Denmark, Chile, and the Komandorskie Islands”.
  • “As often as possible, but I’m not very good at it yet”.
  • “I need much more practice”.
  • “It happened to some old friends of mine, and it’s a story I’ll never forget”.
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Ed McMahon

A Marine Corps aviator and flight instructor from Lowell, Massachusetts joined Carson from that first show, back in 1962.   The Marine earned his carrier landing qualifications around the time the atomic bomb ended the war in the Pacific, and went on to fly 85 combat missions in Korea, earning six air medals and retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1966.   His name was Ed McMahon.

In those days, the Tonight Show was a whopping 105 minutes long.  Groucho Marx delivered a fifteen-minute monologue before introducing the host for that first program.  After that and for years afterward, the monologue segment fell to McMahon himself.

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Groucho Marx introducing the new host of the Tonight Show, October 1, 1962

When the Tonight Show first aired, everyone on the set including Carson himself, smoked.  The “Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act” was introduced in Congress in 1969.  Ironically, it was President Richard Nixon, an avid pipe smoker who lit up as many as eight bowls a day, who signed the measure into law on April 1, 1970.   The measure included a permanent ban on television cigarette advertising, scheduled to take effect ac1dd1ea41e71a3d44fe61af45173ba5--johnny-carson-tonight-showJanuary 2, the following year.  The last cigarette ad in the history of American television was a Virginia Slims ad, broadcast at 11:59p.m., January 1, 1971, on the Tonight Show, Starring Johnny Carson.  Smoking on-air became a thing of the past sometime in the mid-80s, but that cigarette box remained on Carson’s desk until his final episode, in 1992.  You’ve come a long way, baby.

For NBC, the Tonight Show was a cash cow.  Many years the program grossed over $100 million, accounting for 15-20% of the profits earned by the entire network.  Carson threatened to walk in 1980, ending up with a deal unprecedented in the history of American broadcasting: $5 million a year and series commitments estimated at $50 million.  Just as important, show content would no longer belong to the network, but to Carson himself.

hqdefault (1)Carson began taking Mondays off in 1972, when the show moved from New York to California.  There followed a period of rotating guest hosts, including George Carlin and Joan Rivers, who became permanent guest host between 1983 and 1986.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was a late-night fixture through seven US Presidents: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George HW Bush.  Nearly every American over the age of 30 and some younger will remember the opening, “Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”.  There was the opening monologue, and the imaginary golf swing.  “Carnac the Magnificent”, holding the envelope to his head, reciting the punchline to the joke sealed inside.  “Saucepan… Who was Peter Pan’s wino brother?”  When a joke bombed, there was the comedic curse.  “May a bloated yak change the temperature of your jacuzzi!”

download (16)Jay Leno appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson for the first time on March 2, 1977.  He would frequently guest, and served as permanent host from May 1992 to May 2009.

Five years after Carson’s final show, 10,000 taped episodes were moved to a salt mine in Kansas, to protect them from deterioration. There they remain, 54 stories underground, where the average temperature is 68° Fahrenheit, with a uniform 40% humidity.

Excepting Conan O’Brien’s eight months in 2010, Leno remained permanent host of the Tonight Show until February 2014, recording more episodes (4,610) than even Carson himself, with 4,531. Saturday Night live veteran Jimmy Fallon took over the reins in February 2014, where he remains to this day.

The world’s longest running talk show began in 1954, when Steve Allen sat down at his piano on September 27.  This show is gonna go on… forever”, Allen quipped.  So far, he seems to have gotten that right.

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If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

February 15, 1898 Yellow Journalism

We hear a lot today about “fake news”, but that’s nothing new.  Circulation wars were white hot in those days, competing newspapers using anything possible to get an edge.

Yellow kid, Outcault_4th_ward_browniesMickey Dugan was born on February 17, 1895, on the wrong side of the tracks. A wise-cracking street urchin with a “sunny disposition”, Mickey was the kind of street kid you’d find in New York’s turn-of-the-century slums, maybe hawking newspapers. “Extra, Extra, read all about it!”

With his head shaved as if recently ridden of lice, Mickey was one of thousands of homeless street urchins roaming the back lots and tenements of the city, not as much an individual as an archetype. Mickey Dugan was a cartoon character, the child of artist and “Buster Brown” creator, Richard Outcault.

Yellow_kid001Outcault’s “Hogan’s Alley” strip, one of the first regular Sunday newspaper cartoons in the country, became colorized in May of 1895. For the first time, Mickey Dugan’s oversized, hand-me-down nightshirt was depicted in yellow.  Soon, the character was simply known as “the Yellow kid”.

Outcault worked for Joseph Pulitzer in those days, owner of the New York World Newspaper. Archrival William Randolph Hearst hired the cartoonist away to work for Pulitzer’s cross-town competitor Journal American, but the pair soon learned that there was no copyright protection on the Yellow kid. Soon, the character was simultaneously appearing in competing newspaper strips, where he would remain for over a year.

YellowKidWe hear a lot today about “fake news”, but that’s nothing new.  Circulation wars were white hot in those days, competing newspapers using anything possible to get an edge. Real-life street urchins hawked lurid headlines, heavy on scandal-mongering and light on verifiable fact. Whatever it took, to increase circulation.

The Yellow kid character had died away by 1898, but he lived on in a way, in the style of newspaper reporting which came to be called “yellow journalism”.

After two wars for independence from Spain, the Caribbean island of Cuba found its economy increasingly intertwined with that of the United States. From the Spanish perspective, Cuba was more of a province than a colony.  They were not about to relinquish a foot of territory. When the Cuban Rebellion of 1895 broke out, Spanish colonial administrator don Valeriano Weyler’s brutal repressions killed thousands in Cuban concentration camps.

In America, some saw parallels between the “Cuba Libre” movement, and the United States’ own revolution of a hundred-odd years earlier. Fearing the economic repercussions of a drawn out conflict, shipping and other business interests put pressure on President McKinley to intervene. Meanwhile, the yellow papers kept the issue front page, whipping up popular fury with tales of the noble Cuban revolutionary and the barbaric Spaniard. There were even tales of American women being publicly strip searched, by Spanish authorities.

imperialism-the-spanishamerican-war-and-yellow-journalism-11-638

The armored cruiser USS Maine left Key West headed for Cuba in January 1898, to protect US interests and to emphasize the need for a quick resolution to the conflict. Anchored in Havana Harbor on February 15, a massive explosion of unknown origin rocked the Maine, sinking the cruiser within minutes and killing 268 of the 355 Americans on board.

The McKinley administration urged calm. Conditions in Cuba were bad enough, without front page headlines like “Spanish Murderers” and “Remember the Maine”, accompanied by sensationalized accounts of Spanish brutality. War became all but inevitable when US Navy findings were released that March, stating that the sinking had resulted from an external explosion.

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“Spanish Misrule,” Puck, 1890s, by Louis Dalrymple

The Spanish-American War began the following month, directly resulting in the Philippine-American war.

There is a story, that illustrator Frederic Remington said there was no war brewing in Cuba. Hearst is supposed to have replied. “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” The story may be apocryphal. Newspapers then couldn’t tell us what to think any more than today, but the media certainly controlled what the public thought ABOUT.  For two years, Hearst and Pulitzer had clamored for war with Spain.  Both were happy to take credit, when war came. Beside that, it was good for circulation. A week after the Spanish-American War began that April, Hearst’s American Journal ran the headline “How do you like the Journal’s war?”  Front page.  Above the fold.

It’s been said that you should never pick a fight with a guy who buys ink by the barrel. I disagree. I have broken that dictum myself and recommend the practice to anyone so inclined. For all the Wizard of Oz antics of the print and electronic media, there remains only the one man behind the curtain.

President Reagan once said of the Soviet Union, “doveryai no proveryai” (trust, but verify). He might have said the same of an information industry whose business model it is, to rent an audience to a sponsor.

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In 1976, a team of American naval investigators concluded that the explosion aboard the USS Maine was likely caused by a fire which ignited ammunition stockpiles, not by Spanish mine or act of sabotage.

Concerning what to say to the families of the 20,603 dead, wounded and missing from the Spanish-American war, the newspapers were and remain, silent.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.