October 19, 2009

Wolf Blitzer Is Not An Idiot


wolf blitzer.JPG

It's much worse than that.


Balloon Boy: homemade weather balloon allegedly takes off with 6 year old boy in it, balloon comes down, no boy.  The boy is later found hiding in the garage.

Then it is learned that the family are "storm chasers," they had previously been on a reality show called Wife Swap, the boy's name is Falcon and the dad looks like he's trying to look like another storm chaser:


storm chasers.JPG

But the jig is up.  In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, who asks the child why he didn't come out of hiding when he knew people were looking for him, he looks at his mom and dad and says, hesitatingly, "you guys said... we were doing this for the show."

But Wolf doesn't pick up on it.  The father ("oh, man") muddles through the interview-- he's waiting for Wolf to start yelling at him.  But it never comes, 900 monitors in The Situation Room's and Wolf Blitzer misses the obvious.  The interview finally ends.

There was a flood of emails, apparently, and Wolf gets the family back for a follow up interview, "can you explain what the boy meant?"  but by that point the father has had a chance to straighten the kid out.

The conclusion is: The whole thing is a hoax, and Wolf is an idiot.

II.

The other conclusion, if it hasn't already occurred to you it will before you finish reading this sentence, is that Wolf did pick up on it, but let it go anyway.

Here's an analogy, which may seem imperfect, but follow it through.   The analogy is when a coworker walks in on two people who are calling him a jerk.  Rather than confront the coworker, he pretends he didn't hear it.  So now everyone knows he heard it, but everyone is pretending it didn't happen.  It's not fear of the other guy, it's a fear of changing the delicate balance of the work environment.  All he wants is to get through each day, he didn't ask for drama, he didn't ask to get involved in office politics. None of that stuff matters; the goal is to hold your breath, get paid, go home.

So whenever they pass each other in the hall, they're not just civil, they overcompensate.    "What did you do this weekend, anything?"  "Oh, I went down to the bay, my father in law's got a boat."  "Yeah? Do you do any fishing?"  etc.

They both know it's fake; they both know they hate each other.  But if they want to keep working there, if they want the job to get done, then they're both going to have to pretend the thing didn't happen, to play their respective parts.  The show must go on.

III.

While people are saying Wolf missed the obvious, in fact it is evident he did not.  Here's exactly what was said:

Boy: You guys said that we did this for the show.
Wolf: I- I- I  heard what he said-- but I'm not-- it wasn't really clear what was his reasoning why he... he heard you screaming Falcon, Falcon, and I'm sure he heard his mom screaming Falcon, Falcon, but why didn't he come out of the garage at that point?    

What happened is that Wolf was in the middle of a story some people suspected was a hoax, but was still being reported as a "thank god he was hiding in the garage" drama.  So he tried to protect the story.  He tried to pretend he missed the comment so that everyone could go on with the story as it was being told.

If you agree with this, then you have to also face the fact that Wolf didn't consciously plan, "no matter what happens in this interview, I'm going to cover it up"-- it was a reflex, an instinct.  Get a drink, think about this: a reporter's instinct wasn't to go for the truth, but to go with the scripted story.

You may think that I'm too much with the rum or too hard on Wolf-- "he seems like such a nice man" but it's not Wolf's fault.  He's a cog in the Matrix.  The next day Meredith Vieira interviews the family live on the Today show.  While the father is denying to her it was a hoax, the boy suddenly says, "mom, I need a cup" and vomits.  Vierra's response to this is nothing.   Forget about the implications of the boy's vomiting, she does not even acknowledge that he vomited.  Is she heartless?  No.  She's flustered: her instinct is to preserve the show, like a stage actress, keep the scene going no matter what else happens.

Now take your favorite political issue of the past, oh, I don't know, 25 years, think about all you think you know about it, think about where you truly learned it-- don't lie to yourself, go ahead and google the phrases you use in your arguments and see where they came from-- and despair.

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http://twitter.com/thelastpsych







Comments

Short and sweet....keep the... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 12:08 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Short and sweet....keep them coming!

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Great post... it's hardly '... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 12:57 PM | Posted by PCD: | Reply

Great post... it's hardly 'news' anymore (whatever that was supposed to mean), it's entertainment

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Nice article. Thanks for go... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 1:07 PM | Posted by David Johnson: | Reply

Nice article. Thanks for going into the dynamics of the situation. A little overreaching at the end:

Now take your favorite political issue of the past, oh, I don't know, 25 years, think about all you think you know about it, think about where you truly learned it-- don't lie to yourself, go ahead and google the phrases you use in your arguments and see where they came from-- and despair.

So I googled single payer health care and these are the first 5 entries:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-...Wikipedia article
http://www.grahamazon.com/sp/ Single payer website
http://www.grahamazon.com/sp/whatiss... Single payer flash movie
http://www.opednews.com/populum/diar... (letter to editor)
http://www.pnhp.org/ Physicians for a National Health Program.

Uh ... on second thought, you're right. I do feel a bit of despair when I think of how impossible this concept is in America and how backwards we are in terms of providing affordable health care to all Americans compared to the rest of the developed world.
//end rant

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The complicity of telejourn... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 1:30 PM | Posted by Jim: | Reply

The complicity of telejournalists in propagating a desired narrative is one thing, but how did the authorities on the ground miss this when it was happening? For nearly three hours, they had helicopters flying all over Colorado, and no one checked the garage. Skepticism is central to their jobs, especially when the only witness is under ten. Is the sheriff pursuing the hoax theory because he'd rather be seen as gullible than incompetent?

The balloon boy, however, is six. He has no idea what's going on, whether he's talking to Blitzer or his dad. He had to be confused as hell sitting on his couch talking to someone two thousand miles away. Everything that's happened in this ordeal is an abstraction for him. As strange as his father is - he wants to be perceived as a television meteorologist who is utterly naive about media exposure - this doesn't seem to be a hoax so much as a stream of idiotic decisions.

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Yes, Wolfie doesn't want to... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 2:23 PM | Posted by Emp: | Reply

Yes, Wolfie doesn't want to rock any boats. He reports it the way he assumes his bosses want it to be reported. That's why he's still got a job in journalism. That is the attitude of all 'journalists' and that's why socialism basically no longer exists and the standard of living in the third world is worse today than it was 50 years ago.

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What is the answer? Everyo... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 3:02 PM | Posted by titmouse: | Reply

What is the answer? Everyone seems so helpless to change the larger system that surrounds them.

Perhaps some journalists who care about good evidential standards and getting at the truth no matter how unpleasant, might form their own organization capable of dictating a few terms toward the powerful rather than the other way around.

I dunno.

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i love despair. i recommend... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 4:50 PM | Posted by randini: | Reply

i love despair. i recommend others learn to love it too.

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Now take your fav... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 4:55 PM | Posted by Z. Constantine: | Reply

Now take your favorite political issue of the past...

The entirety of politics occurs on-screen and in the papers unless you're living in DC or intimately involved with some aspect of policy - consider the political actions available to the average citizen (after voting and writing letters) - in much the same way that an interviewer can gloss over a 6 year old's lie, the media's attribution of intention to a protesting crowd has the potential to work against whichever cause they assembled for just as easily as for it... (or, in the case of Fox's teabagger coverage, news coverage distorts the proportion of the issue)

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Check out Rick Sanchez' blo... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 5:29 PM | Posted by Paul: | Reply

Check out Rick Sanchez' blog for his apology about the Rush Limbaugh comments. It's curious that he talks about himself being "accountable." Yet he wasn't suspended. Limbaugh lost his bid in part because of comments he didn't make. He became accountable for things he didn't say.

Sanchez is now considered "noble" and "manly" (see blog comments) for admitting the incontrovertible truth: he was wrong. But he really didn't say he was wrong or that he didn't follow journalistic standards. He simply admitted that he couldn't source the quotes he repeated. Sanchez stated that he got the quotes from an obscure book, not from the Wikiquote website. It looks like one of those quotes wasn't even in the book. As with Wolf (who flunked Jeopardy), it's about the narrative. Protect the story.

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Would that something like t... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 6:40 PM | Posted, in reply to titmouse's comment, by caeia: | Reply

Would that something like that were possible. The problem is that journalists go to a 4-year journalism school that pretty much beats them into group-thinking fuzzballs interested in infotainment rather than actual news. The only hope, I think is the blogosphere, where people can write about the news that actually matters. TV and radio news is a lost cause. In order to get one TV, you pretty much have to have sold your soul and have no integrity.

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It's almost as if journalis... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 7:47 PM | Posted by Vagrant: | Reply

It's almost as if journalists see other people as props in a movie centered around the journalists themselves.


:-P

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Who and or what taught him ... (Below threshold)

October 19, 2009 8:28 PM | Posted by Honorius: | Reply

Who and or what taught him that he had to protect the narratives?

There are "obvious" candidate: us, advertiser, concentration of news outlet into the hand of very few corporation. But this story didn't attack any of that. It was non-threatening to corporate interest and discovering that this was just one big hoax is as good a story as the fake one.

Of course, it "damages" the network's reputation. This is now the story of how news organization got fooled by a manipulative father (of course, it's not about how we got duped). It still doesn't explain the instinct.

"Not wanting to rock the boat" doesn't go far enough. It doesn't explain it.

Can it be that journalist, in their daily confrontation with lying politicians and what they perceive as deceptive appearences, have stopped taking notice of what was happening in front of them? "This guy just said something, but I'm going to ignore it and pursue with my line of questionning because what he said was Bullshit. I won't get distracted. I'll get the truth out."

Could it be that we trust so little of what we see that we build an alternate view, a narrative, which "must" be true?

If you believe that you're always being deceived, what's your reaction gonna be? Is that how that came about? But I imply there was a time we did not set a narrative up. I have no idea.

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Maybe he just didn't want t... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 12:05 AM | Posted by information addict: | Reply

Maybe he just didn't want to tear into the father in front of the kid--even if he is the press--and anyone could see what the truth was anyway. That might be a non-cynical view...but I do like yours.

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It works if we assume that ... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 12:13 AM | Posted, in reply to information addict's comment, by Honorius: | Reply

It works if we assume that Meredith Vieira reaction to the kid vomiting (which is none at all) was not lead by the same instinct.

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He skips past it because th... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 2:04 AM | Posted by Fred: | Reply

He skips past it because that's what a good performer does. He's putting on a show for us and hitting the emotional marks he knows he has to hit to make this a satisfying story for the viewers. He's not the journalist digging for facts here, he's the journalist-as-narrative-device.

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"Now take your favorite ... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 5:08 AM | Posted by KD: | Reply

"Now take your favorite political issue of the past, ...-- and despair."

There would only be room to despair if we were looking back at some kind of Golden Age of Critical Thinking. We're not. We're beasts of social imitation, and easily manipulated. We went from mass subsistence and illiteracy to mass-transmission entertainment in a very short span of history. I prefer cable TV to public hangings for fun.

David Foster Wallace had a charitable view on it in his great essay, Television and U.S. Fiction:
"I'm not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose the Audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests."

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It's quite hard to change y... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 6:30 AM | Posted by SusanC: | Reply

It's quite hard to change your mind about something - especially when you're underpressure and there are lots of people watching you (e.g. you're presenting on TV).

I can at least sympathize (if not condone) with the instinct to carry on with your previous hyphothesis while the TV cameras are still filming, and then change your mind when you've got more time to think about it.

Still, rapidly switching tack mid-performance, and doing it with good grace, is a useful skill to practise. (Hey, as academics we get plenty of practise - say you're in a seminar explaining your first draft of some idea, when one of your grad students puts their hand up and describes some really killer objection to it.)

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Googled "'single payer' + '... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 8:23 AM | Posted, in reply to David Johnson's comment, by edianes: | Reply

Googled "'single payer' + 'how backward we are'": 248 results; "'single payer' + 'the rest of the developed world'": 852 results. And those are pretty detailed phrases; that doesn't count "how far behind we are" or "in Scandanavia...." Also, this is your favorite political issue of the past 25 years? More meaningful than gay rights, or torture, or global warming, or terrorism, or immigration, or the Cold War, or education?

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Edianes,He was usi... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 9:17 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Edianes,

He was using "pick your favorite" to drive home his point, not saying that this one was his. Pretty much any major controversial topic has some of its arguments from some pretty whacked-out people and you might find yourself a little shamed for it.

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He just felt a connection t... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 1:00 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

He just felt a connection to the man who cried wolf.

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In reply to Honorious sayin... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 3:31 PM | Posted, in reply to Honorius's comment, by Emp: | Reply

In reply to Honorious saying: "Who and or what taught him that he had to protect the narratives?"

I think it's something you almost instinctually know (or don't know). And it works the same in journalism as in any other job. In most corporations there are unspoken rules that you have to figure out on your own concerning properly kissing the boss's ass, etc. You either figure these things out, or you're let go.

Primarily it comes down to simply copying the opinions, behaviors of those around you. I do think it's the same idea in journalism. And perhaps there are a ton of would be journalists that were 'let go' because they kept asking the wrong questions, wanting to do the wrong stories, etc.

Ultimately the few people in control of these media corporations do control exactly what product comes out of them. They hire editors who in turn hire journalists, etc. The rightwingers in charge don't hire socialist editors/managers. These people in turn know they're not supposed to be hiring actually left leaning journalists. Here and there someone gets in who starts asking the wrong questions. So, they're let go.

Even Phil Donahue. His show came back and he dared to have a few people on who questioned starting the Iraq War. The owners of the company simply claimed his ratings weren't good when they were the best and canceled his show. Same concept works all up and down the line.

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Saying that journalists hav... (Below threshold)

October 20, 2009 6:19 PM | Posted, in reply to caeia's comment, by Felan: | Reply

Saying that journalists have sold their soul and have no integrity is just as bad to my mind as agreeing with what they say blindly.

I honestly don't know how any person can get to more than the merest shadow of truth. The problem is the same now as ever really. When knowledge was scattered in books it would be hard to find the books. Now it is equally hard to find the good information in a sea of information.

If somehow you manage to actually find some truth, you are no better off. It seems to me that more lies are told in truths (by not telling all the truths, intentional or otherwise) than are told in outright lie. Hell, an outright lie is actually kind of refreshing. And its everyone telling the incomplete truths that lead to the lies and the outright lies.

I actually doubt any of this is new though, its just easier than before. Once upon a time you actually had to have a conversation to spread lies, deception, and errors. It is quite possible I've read many posts of people that had it been in conversation I would have walked away or tuned them out.

I don't know that any of it is really a bad thing, in a way I wish I was unaging to observe this tendancy over time.

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They both have dark hair an... (Below threshold)

November 10, 2009 12:58 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

They both have dark hair and wear shirts. Inform the stopped presses!

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. . . because the "rest of ... (Below threshold)

January 15, 2015 9:34 PM | Posted, in reply to David Johnson's comment, by Atarii: | Reply

. . . because the "rest of the developed world" is right, by virtue of the fact that they are a majority, right?

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