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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deceptively Nice Honestly

"What is more important, being honest or being nice."


"So I can lie to you as long as I am nice when I do it?"

"Honesty is more important, I don't want you to lie to me."

This conversation took place in about ten seconds yesterday between me and my nine year old daughter. Without hesitation she went for the positive emotional response when confronted with a values question, when a bit more detail was given as to possible outcomes of her answer she quickly understood the negative potential of not being honest was far greater than the negative potential of not being nice. She got it completely in less time than it has taken you to read this far.

Sadly, what my nine year old quickly grasped in seconds is illusive to many; and our media and most politicians know it. Honesty is a fundamental value my wife and I are instilling in our children, being honest not only with themselves but also with others--all others. As they get older we will be able to teach them about deception and how it is possible for someone to be honest, while being deceptive in their honesty by not revealing everything about a situation.

"Adolf Hitler was the leader of the German people from 1933 to 1945; Franklin Roosevelt was the leader of the American people from 1933 to 1945." These statements are both true, taken together and out of context--say read to a nine year old with no knowledge of world history--it may convey that Hitler and Roosevelt were similar men, both led their nations for a twelve year period. But is the statement honest? Or is it deceptive in what is being left out of the statement?

Such is the coverage of our nation's politics and government. Would the public rather have honesty or a nice message? Much of the reporting during the Bush Administration concentrated on the "nice" aspect of his Administration, portraying Bush, and even more so members of his Administration like Vice-President Dick Cheney and advisor Karl Rove, as not nice nor honest ("Bush lied people died" etc ad nauseum). As his tenure wore on more and more effort was concentrated on the characterization of those around him as evil and sinister. The more this was reported the more traction it gained in the public consciousness, the more "honest" it became. Not reported because it may impact the "honest" reporting being sent from the White House and Washington D.C. is that approximately 95% of the White House press corps, those assigned to report on the President and his advisers, voted for Al Gore and then John Kerry; those reporting on the President did not want him to be the President.

During the last Presidential campaign we witnessed a new media falling in love with a candidate. At last here was someone the majority of our nation's media could cover with nice stories, someone whose positions they supported and could write about in a positive light. Because of Barack Obama's liberal ideology aligning with the majority of reporters, editors, publishers and news directors across the country, those covering his campaign, and now his presidency, could write positive articles and columns on politics instead of the negative articles they have been writing for almost eight years against a President and Administration they held in disdain.

Now that Obama is President the coverage has continued in the same vein, so much so that many news outlets are able to edit the President's messages to more appropriately conform with their own ideals and values. While not changing the President's messages, they frame them in such a way that they often change the meaning. At the same time the media is able to focus on the President to the exclusion of those who disagree with him, in doing so presenting the President's messages as "honest", and given their fawning coverage also "nice." A major factor also being fear by the reporters and editors and publishers that if they are not nice to the President their access will be restricted--and how honest is that?

Over the past decade the majority of the media have been able to coax the majority of Americans into their positions, especially of nice over honesty, that even though President Obama is continuing almost all of the foreign policy positions as his predecessor, it is done more "diplomatically" or "with consensus" or "restoring America's image." We have a nice President and that is so important in dealing with dictators and terrorists that surely they will now succumb to the wills of the United States because we are saying "please."

Many in the media have become so effusive in their coverage of the President and his policies that they have completely blurred the line between news reporting and editorializing--this line has been crossed repeatedly in the past but rarely as obviously as the past six months. A case in point is the interview CBS news had with Obama on Friday nights newscast with Katie Couric.

During the past week many, myself included, have strongly criticized Obama for not coming out with a strong, declarative statement of support for the demonstrators in Iran. Without stating he supports any one candidate, Obama could have come out with a statement supporting the demonstrators. Doing so stood by our principles as Americans, and also would give encouragement to those demonstrating against the theocratic tyrants running the country. There could be the potential of the support emboldening more Iranians to participate in the demonstrations and eventually lead to the toppling of the Mullahs running Iran. Potentially toppling a government that sponsors terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, that supplies arms, money and transportation to terrorists into Iraq and Afghanistan to kill American soldiers. Potentially toppling a government pursuing nuclear arms and that has vowed to eradicate the state of Israel.

On Friday CBS aired and interview between its reporter Harry Smith and President Obama. Or rather it aired an edited interview between the President and Smith. When the interviewed was aired it omitted the following statements from Obama:

What you're seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and--and seeking justice. And the world is watching. And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way. And, you know, already we've seen violence out there. I think I've said this throughout the week. I want to repeat it that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict, and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that's a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for.

But the last point I want to make on this--this is not an issue of the United States or the West versus Iran. This is an issue of the Iranian people. The fact that they are on the streets under pretty severe duress, at great risk to themselves, is a sign that there's something in that society that wants to open up.

Here is the President of the United States telling demonstrators in Iran "we stand with those who look to peaceful resolution of conflict...we believe the voices of the people have to be heard...that's a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for." Yes! This is what many Americans have been waiting for the President to say. Show support for the demonstrators from the American people over shared desires for freedom to speak, to protest. And CBS cut it from its broadcast. The full transcript is here, you can decide for yourself it CBS in trying to present the news it wanted was honest, or just trying to be nice as not to provoke the Mullahs and tyrants in Iran.

In editing its interview to conform to its own wishes CBS completely missed a major statement from the President, a statement that would have been replayed all over the world with the CBS eye logo on the screen. And the American and Iranian people missed what might have been the most important statement made by Obama since taking office.

As we read, listen and watch news reports on President Obama's health care plan, tax policy, taking over of corporations, regulating industry, we must ask how is the information being presented to us? Is it honest? Is the reporting overly favorable to a "nice" man or is it allowing for discussion and criticism from those who disagree? Are we getting news that is framed in such a way as to shed positive light on the President to insure continued access?

Is it more important to be honest or nice? My nine year old knows the answer.



Anonymous said...

"Yet Obama's cautious stance has been endorsed by a broad group of U.S. foreign policy makers, from Henry Kissinger and Richard Lugar on the right..."

"By avoiding being seen to "meddle" in Iran's internal affairs, say his backers, Obama has blunted attempts by Tehran's hard-line leaders to blame the protests on foreign intervention. "I think the President has handled this well," Kissinger told Fox News on Sunday. "Anything that the United States says that puts us totally behind one of the contenders ... would be a handicap for that person.""

Dennis C Smith said...

Kissinger's comment was invalidated when the Ayatollah blamed America for meddling before Obama even said anything. Obama's silence was indicative of his inexperience and not knowing what to do--where were his advisors and those crack Democrat foreign policy experts who gave so much advice to Bush? Interesting that Obama did not step up the commentary supporting the demonstraters until after Congress voted unanimously minus 1 to condemn the Iranian government and support the protesters. Who knows what opportunity was lost by his silence.