We now return to our special programming here at GetReligion.org -- "Journalism held hostage."
Yes, I am continuing to send notes to the Washington Post about the whole ABC News vs. the American Model of the Press episode. If you wish, join me in writing the newspaper at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 202-334-7582 to leave a message for ombudsman Deborah Howell. If you wish, you could also drop media reporter Howard Kurtz a line -- click here -- since his defense of Charlie Gibson's error is the reason this weblog is upset with the Post.
The original errors, of course, belong to ABC News and the Associated Press. But if Kurtz corrects the error, people are going to pay attention.
Now, I have gone out of my way, during this tirade of mine, to find mainstream journalists in places like the Los Angeles Times and National Journal who realize that it is not fair to cut off the first half of a person's quotation and, thus, change its meaning. That's basic journalism.
This time, I am headed over to the right side of the journalism aisle -- which I know is a dangerous step. I also know that William Kristol of the Weekly Standard is one of those writers of the neoconservative ilk who drive people on the left crazy. Still, his recent "Mad Libs" editorial contained one of the most solid, easy-to-grasp presentations that I have seen of the basic facts about the Gibson error. So, here we go again:
The day of Kurtz's article, September 11, ABC's Charlie Gibson conducted his first interview of Sarah Palin. Gibson asked: "You said recently, in your old church, 'Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.' Are we fighting a holy war?"
Palin responded, "You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote."
"Exact words," Gibson triumphantly retorted.
Not so fast. As Palin explained, quite eloquently, what she was saying was in the spirit of Lincoln: "Let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God's side." The tape of Palin's church appearance bore out her interpretation and revealed Gibson's mischaracterization. "Pray for our military men and women," she had said, "who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God." Gibson had made it sound as if Palin were claiming to know God's will, rather than praying that U.S. actions might be in accord with God's will and in a cause worthy of God's blessing.
No doubt the mere fact of Palin's asking for any kind of blessing on our troops and our national leaders at some backwoods Alaska church was sufficiently distracting to the scripters of Gibson's questions that they didn't look closely at the wording. God knows (so to speak) what they believe at a place like that!
Here, once again, is the basic point of all of this. It is bad journalism to edit a person's quote so that it says something that they did not say.
Of course, it also helps if someone in the newsroom has even a passing familiarity with the religious content of a quotation such as this one. Perhaps the error was innocent. Perhaps they just didn't "get it."