One of the most abused words in broadcast news is tonight. The abusers are anchors and reporters who tell audiences that something happened tonight even though it didn’t.
The time-twisting may be inadvertent, or it may be the result of misinformation or incompetence, even dishonesty. It’s hard to say without the power of subpoena, the ability to put witnesses under oath and the right to grant them immunity.
An expert in inserting tonight in a script even when the story didn’t break that night is the anchor of ABC’s Saturday World News, David Muir. I reported some of his sleight of hand (particularly the hour hand) in an article posted at my Web site on July 13.
More recently, Muir said: “We’ve learned tonight that those three American hikers seized last weekend by Iran have now been moved to Tehran.” Learned from whom? Muir continued: “A sign of quick resolution of this case is unlikely. [Says who? A sign is unlikely?] They were arrested after wandering into Iran from northern Iraq.” He broadcast that 39-word item about 6:40 p.m., Aug. 8.
But almost 23 hours earlier, on Aug. 7, at 7:52 p.m., ABC’s Martha Raddatz reported at ABCNews.com, “American hikers detained by Iran after allegedly crossing over from Iraq have been moved to Tehran, a U.S. official tells ABC News….” Raddatz is ABC’s senior foreign affairs correspondent. Four other staff members were credited with contributing to her 241-word story. Among them: Jim Sciutto, ABC’s senior foreign correspondent.
Raddatz’s report was widely circulated, picked up that night by FoxNews.com, HuffingtonPost.com
and other sites, including the Web site of KGO-TV, the ABC station in San Francisco. (The three detainees are graduates of UC Berkeley.) And CNN.com ran a link to the Raddatz story posted by FoxNews.com.
The other day, I searched the Internet, but I found no articles, including those of wire services, originating on Aug. 8–the date of Muir’s newscast–about the hikers’ being moved to Tehran.
Muir said the hikers were grabbed “last weekend.” Wrong. A companion of the three hikers stayed behind in Iraq, and he blogged on July 31, a Friday, that he had received a phone call from one of the hikers at 1:33 p.m., Iraq time, saying he and the other two hikers were being taken into custody by Iranians. That means the three hikers were detained about 6:33 a.m, EDT, Friday. Hardly the start of the weekend. Not even close. According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, the weekend runs from Friday night or Saturday to Monday morning. (ABC News doesn’t call its World News at 6:30 p.m., Friday, a weekend edition.)
Muir began his script by saying, “We’ve learned tonight.” Isn’t he suggesting that the story he’s about to report is new—and maybe exclusive? Every story anchors report is something the newsroom learned. So an anchor could lead into any story by saying, “We’ve learned….” If the newsroom hasn’t learned it, how can an anchor report it?
News junkies need news fixes throughout the day. But they don’t need news that has been doctored.
copyright 2009 Mervin Block