Accuracy in Media

Conservative columnist Larry Elder contends that Howard Dean’s rise and fall in the Democratic race for the presidency cannot be blamed solely on the media pounding he took over the Iowa speech. There were other Dean controversies, such as his citation of a theory that Bush was warned in advance of 9/11, and his claim that America wasn’t safer after Saddam Hussein’s capture.

But it’s also true, as Howard Fineman of Newsweek noted, that the video of his speech after his Iowa loss “pretty much destroyed his candidacy.” There were suggestions that Dean was unstable, that he had gone “nutso,” in the words of MSNBC, and that he couldn’t be trusted to have his finger on the nuclear button.

The question is whether the video that was replayed, over and over again, accurately captured what happened in that room at that time. We were curious about that from the start because reporters who were actually at the event said they didn’t perceive Dean’s performance to be crazy or outrageous. Although Dean had come in third place, he said he gave a rousing speech to fire up the crowd, which was yelling and waving Americans flags. Reporters who were there said that the crowd was very loud and vocal and that Dean had to shout to be heard. The Los Angeles Times reported that the speech “seemed to play well within the fevered confines” of that room in the hotel and that, “Some in attendance said they felt the candidate resorted to shouts to be heard over the roar of the crowd.”

Diane Sawyer of ABC News has examined that aspect of the controversy, and has concluded that the video that was aired so many times and seen by so many people did not capture the deafening crowd noise. Dean, of course, played into the hands of his adversaries, virtually apologizing for his Iowa speech. He thought the way to respond was to give media interviews with his wife and joke about the speech during an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman.

The value of Sawyer’s report is that she noted that Dean’s microphone at the rally was designed to filter out background noise and isolate one’s voice. Sawyer says she uses a similar microphone when she co-hosts ABC’s morning show. The viewing audience doesn’t hear the roar of the crowd. Sawyer obtained other tapes of the Dean speech, demonstrating that if you were in the room it was very difficult to hear what Dean was saying, even when he was yelling, because the crowd was getting louder and louder. One tape showed that Dean’s so-called “scream” at the end of his speech could hardly be heard in the room. But in the video that aired on television, he came across as a madman. The power of television and media manipulation has been demonstrated once again. Dean was the loser this time.

Sawyer’s story suggests that Dean’s presidential bid may have been sabotaged by the liberal media. It may not have been deliberate, and it’s a fact that Dean was also a liberal. But the overuse of the video may have reflected the view of some in the media that Dean was too liberal to be elected, and that an alternative candidate was needed. So a Vermont liberal was exchanged for a Massachusetts liberal.




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