Saturday, March 15, 2008
Fox 44: Only The News That Fits
David Wood is disappointed. A promise was broken.
David is a sales clerk at the Cornerstone Bookshop in Plattsburgh. Recently a reporter from a local TV station, WFFF Channel 44 in Vermont, interviewed him. Channel 44 is affiliated with the Fox television network.
The reporter, Ben Kennedy, was covering a story about downtown businesses, whether or not they were seeing a particularly slow time with the cold weather and the high price of gasoline.
According to David Wood, he mentioned during the videotaping that he didn’t want his quotes to be taken out of context. The Fox 44 reporter, said David, promised that wouldn’t happen.
But what appeared on TV that night didn’t reflect David’s actual POV. He had been miscontexted.
During the interview David stated that business was pretty good at the bookshop. As for the problem with high gas prices, some customers were making fewer trips but were buying more books each visit, stocking up. Ergo, fewer visits didn’t mean lower overall sales.
The national Fox TV news service proclaims that it’s “Fair and Balanced.” That means that all sides of a story will be heard. One assumes that the local Fox affiliate subscribes to that ideal.
But with TV news, when you have to meet a deadline, when you’re going on air in a few hours, it’s easier to stay with a preconceived slant and make the information you gathered fit it.
When the story was presented on Fox 44, the slant was apparent right from the beginning. The studio anchorwoman opened the story:
“A college hockey game is drawing thousands to Plattsburgh tonight. But come Monday, it’ll be the same sad story for business owners downtown.”
Fox 44 went live to reporter Ben Kennedy in Plattsburgh who continued to reinforce the slant that all downtown businesses were suffering. First up was a video clip with a restaurant owner who said he had been seeing fewer and fewer customers.
Next was the video segment with David Wood at the Cornerstone Bookshop. The reporter in a voice over stated that not only restaurants were seeing a drop in business; a bookstore was also being affected.
If one paid strict attention during the broadcast, it’s apparent that David’s quote didn’t exactly fit the doom and gloom theme. His comment was presented, fewer visits but larger sales per visit.
But when watching a broadcast, comments come and go quickly. Blink your ears and you’ll miss the subtlety. Fortunately I have a copy of the story that can be replayed as needed.
From studying playbacks it’s obvious the voice over leading in to David’s quote obscures the issue: “David Wood at the Cornerstone Bookshop hasn’t seen as many sales this year.”
In actuality, David stated that compared to last year’s slow time, sales were pretty good. But that quote didn’t make the cut. And the one that did was tainted by the slant.
Zip-zip-zip – images and sounds fly by and what was said in one context now fits a different one.
The Fox News Channel has another slogan: “We report. You decide.”
Maybe the slogan of the local affiliate should be: “We slant. You buy it.”
[Note for any conflict of interest critics: David Wood is a friend. I try my best not to allow a friendship to slant my writing. My conclusions and views do not necessarily agree with his.]