News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Malice mates with stupid: the making of a lie

South Dakota War College is to communication what HIV virus is to a blood bank.  

A recent post illustrates why that is so.   It also shows how the journalistic malpractice on the part of some in the legacy media forms the basis for what the War College does much to the consternation of other journalists.  

The post in question has the headline "Herseth Sandlin hammered by media for lobbyist ties."  That headline illustrates the combination of incompetence and malevolent dishonesty that is the blog's trademark.  That combination is further carried out in the opening sentence:  "The media seems to already be doing Brendan Johnson’s dirty work in softening up Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for the primary, as KEVN files a blistering story on her lobbying work[.]"

When the post was first put up,  it identified the source as KEVN, the Fox television channel in Rapid City.  KEVN's news director and anchor, Jack Caudill , replied with a comment:  "Your story says KEVN wrote a blistering story about Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. That is not our story."   An hour later, he replied again:  "Again, the story was not done by KEVN. That is an error."

Eventually, the troll that resides under the War College bridge crept out and changed the source attribution to KNBN, the NBC affiliate in Rapid City.  But without any acknowledgment or comment on the error.  

The first comment in response to the post came from another journalist, Tom Lawrence of the Mitchell Republic.  It called attention to an error in the information contained in the post:  "Big error here. Herseth Sandlin was a member of Congress in 2006. Max Sandlin registered as a lobbyist in 2006, not SHS. Will we see a correction?" 

The post illustrates how one error gets compounded when it is repeated on a blog.  The question is, who should make the correction?  And that leads to the provenance of the information as it was passed along.

(As a matter of clarity, the Wart Collage post was called to my attention when I was contacted as the spouse of a former Herseth Sandlin staff member to verify some matters of chronology raised by the post.)

The provenance, as we trace it, is:

  • Original column:  The Washington Examiner, by senior political columnist Timothy P. Carney.  To
  •  KNBN, reporter Shad Olson.  To
  • SDWC, Pat Powers.  
All the  sources of information involved are fruits hanging on various branches of the wingnut tree.  However, Mr. Carney demonstrates some  competence and diligence in his presentation of information.  One of his graphs is the basis for the error:
South Dakota Democrat Stephanie Herseth in mid-2004 won a special election for an open-seat House race. When she came to town, she became involved in a romance with fellow Democratic Rep. Max Sandlin of Texas. In 2004, Sandlin lost re-election. In 2006, Sandlin registered as a lobbyist. Herseth and Sandlin married in 2007, creating an ethically awkward arrangement, especially when Rep. Herseth Sandlin voted for the legislation her husband was being paid to champion.
Mr. Olson twists that information when he wretches it up in this regurgitation:

In 2006. back when she was Stephanie Herseth, she registered as a lobbyist, and met and married fellow lobbyist, Max Sandlin, setting up what the Examiner calls an ethically awkward arrangement, “especially when Herseth-Sandlin voted for legislation her husband was paid to champion.”
Mr. Olson turns a paraphrase into a false-a-phrase and then gives it the aspect of authenticity with a partial quotation.  One can conjecture whether incompetence or dishonesty is the cause.     Mr. Olson was fired from television station KOTA in 2010 when he compromised the credibility of the station by becoming an open and rather boisterous advocate for the tea party.

Mr. Powers cuts and pastes Mr. Olson's misquotation and misstatement and passes it along.  One may wonder if it ever occurred to Mr. Powers to track back to the Washington Examiner source to insure that what he cuts and pastes is an accurate representation of the facts and what is quoted about them, but he has a long history of prancing about in an insouciance dance around matters of truth and accuracy and integrity.  He vaporized his performances in such matters when he destroyed his blog before going to work at the Secretary of State's office, and then reduced the trust and credibility of that office to a shambles with his  performances there, before he was forced out.  

Mr. Lawrence's query about whether we will see a correction is answered by what happened.  Mr. Powers crept out from under the bridge where the troll coven gathers, quietly changed the source designation, and then crept back to the coven, leaving the misinformation hanging out there on the wingnut tree for all the devotees to ingest and enjoy.  This is besides the issue of falsely insisting that Brendan Johnson is engaged in a plot to malign and undercut Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, or the portrayal of clumsy and incompetent reporting as "blistering."  Matters of intelligence and integrity are not values that have any relevance to the trolls and other benighted creatures. 

The calling out of errors by established journalists raises some conflicting issues.  On one hand, it is heartening that established and competent journalists such as Mr. Caudill and Mr. Lawrence are rising in the interests of the press, the integrity of which is essential to the operation of a democratic republic.  On the other hand, it is disheartening that their attention must be paid to the malicious and scurrilous, and that blogs with such reputations have any credence and influence on reporting and political discourse.  But just as we must mount countermeasures to the spread of HIV for the sake of national health, we must take measures to rescue the Internet from the being the vector of malice and falsehood to the point that reputable institutions do not accept the veracity of anything purveyed by it unless the information is processed through a complex and arduous process of authentication.  The responses of Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Caudill refute the War College's premise that a statement originating in a very partisan, tea-party aligned medium, the Washington Examiner, is distorted and falsified by a reporter with a demonstrated past of compromising journalism with tea-party ideology is representative of "the media" participating in a conspiracy being made up by Pat Powers.  It is, in fact, the kind of practice that the legacy media quickly wish to disassociate themselves from. 

However, the very fact that accuracy and honesty issues are being raised by members of our legacy media gives a glimmer of hope. 

No comments:

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States