The Tears Of Network Investigative Journalists

Continuing my thanks-giving, do you know what Dan Rather and pink slime have in common? Neither is investigative journalism! which I discovered after boredom over the holiday forced me to read the LA Times snail mail edition. They buried this pity party in the Calendar/comics section, where it was found by my idle hands.

TV News grows more risk-averse

LA Times dead tree edition, page E1

By Stephen Battaglio, 29 November 2019

This has been the autumn of discontent for investigative TV journalists.

Ronan Farrow’s bestselling book “Catch and Kill” detailed his frustration with former bosses at NBC News over his failed attempt to break the story on the sexual assault and harassment allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. A month later, leaked video showed ABC’s “20/20” co-anchor Amy Robach grousing over how the network would not run a 2015 interview with a victim of billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein that implicated Prince Andrew and former President Bill Clinton.

Discontent? That should be vindication! I’m (not) shocked that investigative journalists haven’t yet figured out that the Conspiracy of the Century is signing their very paychecks.

In both cases the networks said the stories never reached the editorial standard they believed was necessary to put it on the air.

Those editors would have swan-dived out their corner-office window had those investigative journalists gone just one step further.

Robach even publicly packed up ABC’s assertion, saying her private remarks on an open mike were made “in a moment of frustration”.

So she DID go just one step further. And closed ranks instead of going public. Hence this veiled “please don’t fire me, I didn’t mean for my complaint to go public.”

But the dissatisfaction Farrow and Robach expressed reflects a deepening concern by some veteran journalists and producers that network TV news divisions are avoiding controversial enterprise stories that could pose financial risks from litigation and create aggravation for their corporate owners. Declining ratings, public distrust of the media and the surfeit of news from the Trump White House have added to those pressures.

Haha! They said it! Now if they’re smart, those investigative journalists will start blackmailing their megacorporate employers by using the access they have as megacorporate investigative journalists.

“I had the scoop, then my boss said it ‘hit too close’, then Trump declassified it anyway over the rulings of the judge protecting us. I thought we were the good guys! We ARE the good guys! So why is everything going wrong? And why did my boss suddenly retire to a country without extradition before his stock options vested? How DID Epstein manage to break his own neck with rope he didn’t have in maximum security, anyway?”

“I would way that you don’t go to broadcast television to see investigative reporting these days,” said Lowell (((Bergman))), a veteran investigative news producer and emeritus professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. “There’s much less of it because it’s a bigger hassle than other kinds of reporting.”

True dat. And take one reason (((why)))? Your clue is this article started out with investigative reporters complaining that their scoops on infamous Jews were trash-binned by their heavily Jewish corporate handlers.

“And network television has always been concerned not just with ratings but with profits.”

A provable lie. The news used to be seen as a loss leader, a public service provided by entertainment companies. Then Communists saw the value of news as propaganda. Which is still not a profit thing.

And even today, the Weinstein and Epstein scoops were not canceled because they WOULDN’T bring eyeballs to the advertisements.

Chris Hansen, whose undercover and hidden-camera investigations were a staple of NBC News for more than a decade until he left the network in 2013, said enterprise reporting has become less attractive as news magazines such as NBC’s “Dateline” and ABC’s “20/20” are seeing higher profits with true-crime stories that can play – and be replayed – like scripted dramas.

“I think a lot of time network executives go, ‘OK, how much can we spend for an Overseas Press Club Award or a Peabody for an investigation? What is that worth worth our time versus a less expensive crime narrative that people will watch and people will learn something from?” Hansen said. “It’s good stuff, but it’s not traditional investigative reporting.”

Hansen is trying very hard to not see the pink elephant in the room. I don’t watch TV so correct me if I’m wrong, but nobody watches Dateline and 20/20 reruns. Nobody learns anything from true-crime dramas unless they crack a book afterwards or remember the shows long enough to see the patterns.

The pink elephant has a name: the Associated Press. Every media outlet purchases a majority of its stories from the AP now. Smaller papers buy almost everything that’s not local. They don’t do that to save money. As every survey of journalists shows, the news media is obsessed with choir practice. Everybody must sing the exact same note, and having your own reporter do your own reporting created the deadly risk of reaching a different Narrative.

One in which, for example, Epstein didn’t kill himself.

It’s hard to make a profit in a cutthroat market if you believe the key to survival is blending in with the herd. You’ll be bankrupted regardless if you don’t do anything different from the next guy who’s a tenth of a cent cheaper. Fox News is (was) a great example of how a news organization can succeed simply by abandoning the official, cost-effective, AP-provided narrative.

As networks have become part of sprawling, publicly held media conglomerates–ABC parent the Walt Disney Co and NBC parent Comcast have grown significantly in recent years–

I will have THAT story coming as soon as I get back home. TL;DR Trump must stop listening to Jared Kushner.

–risk management is now a major element of running a news division.

“There is no question lawyers are more careful now,” says Rick Kaplan, a veteran TV producer who has worked at ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN.

ABCBSNBCNN. Aka Associated Press and maybe Reuters.

“Why are they careful? The finance people are telling them, ‘If you lose, and we owe millions of dollars on a legal suit, you’re toast.'”

I can’t recall erroneous reporting that caused a severe lawsuit offhand. Most such accidents are fixed with a simple mea culpa. Or does finance people mean (((finance people)))?

[Chris Vlato, senior producer at ABC News says] “We’re now in a world of fake videos and easily faked documents, and I wake up every night scared about that,” Vlasto said. “I think our lawyers do and I think standards [and practices] does. That’s what makes it a scarier time now for every journalism organization. We have to be on our guard because people want to get us.”

Sucks to have competition, doesn’t it? Sucks even more to be scooped by nameless amateurs, doesn’t it?

So, Vlato “thinks” fake documents are a problem? He didn’t check if it’s actually a problem? Isn’t the potential for fake evidence a good reason to continue funding in-house investigative reporting?

But that can backfire, you see. Remember Obama’s birth certificate? It’s a known forgery but Obama had been in the White House too long for its exposure to have done any good. There are some things that mainstream news media DON’T want their viewers to know, which is the real complaint underneath all this liability smoke.

You already knew that but today, you can savor it.

The price for getting a narrative wrong can be high. A phony document that CBS used in a 2004 report on former President George W. Bush’s military service effectively ended the career of longtime anchor Dan Rather and two of the network’s producers.

Hey, that’s a great example! That wasn’t a false document mistakenly aired, that was an obsession that Dan Rather kept doubling down on until the backdraft put W. Bush in the White House.

Segue!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killian_documents_controversy

The Killian documents controversy (also referred to as Memogate or Rathergate) involved six documents that are critical of President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard in 1972–73, allegedly typed in 1973. Dan Rather presented four of these documents as authentic in a 60 Minutes II broadcast…

So much for the complaint of Dateline-style shows taking the place of investigative journalism.

…aired by CBS on September 8, 2004, less than two months before the 2004 presidential election, but it was later found that CBS had failed to authenticate them.

Elsewhere in this link, CBS’ inhouse researchers demonstrated they were fraudulent before they were aired. But Dan Rather pushed ahead in order to torpedo Dubya’s election chances.

Several typewriter and typography experts soon concluded that they were forgeries. Proportional-print typewriters were in use in the early 1970s which could have produced the documents, such as the IBM Selectric typewriter, but no forensic examiners or typography experts have authenticated them and it may not be technically possible without the originals. Lt. Col. Bill Burkett provided the documents to CBS, but he claims to have burned the originals after faxing them copies.

CBS News producer Mary Mapes obtained the copied documents from Burkett, a former officer in the Texas Army National Guard, while pursuing a story about the George W. Bush military service controversy. Burkett claimed that Bush’s commander Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian wrote them, which included criticisms of Bush’s service in the Guard during the 1970s. In the 60 Minutes segment, Rather stated that the documents “were taken from Lieutenant Colonel Killian’s personal files”, and he falsely asserted that they had been authenticated by experts retained by CBS.

They can’t blame their investigative journalists for that, but getting rid of them in an age where facts are less important than results would still be sensible.

The authenticity of the documents was challenged within hours on Internet forums and blogs, with questions initially focused on anachronisms in the typography, and the scandal quickly spread to the mass media.

Image result for i drink journalist tears

CBS and Rather defended the authenticity and usage of the documents for two-weeks, but other news organizations continued to scrutinize the evidence, and USA Today obtained an independent analysis from outside experts. CBS finally repudiated the forgeries on September 20, 2004. Rather stated, “if I knew then what I know now – I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question”…

Dan Rather couldn’t stop doubling down even after his allies abandoned him for their own safety.

…and CBS News President Andrew Heyward said, “Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report. We should not have used them. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret.”

Several months later, a CBS-appointed panel led by Dick Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi criticized both the initial CBS news segment and CBS’s “strident defense” during the aftermath. CBS fired producer Mapes, requested resignations from several senior news executives, and apologized to viewers by saying only that there were “substantial questions regarding the authenticity of the Killian documents”.

Image result for mary mapes killian

Mapes.

The story of the controversy was dramatized in the 2015 film Truth starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes, directed by James Vanderbilt. It is based on Mapes’ memoir Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power. Former CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves refused to approve the film, and CBS refused to air advertisements for it. A CBS spokesman stated that it contained “too many distortions, evasions, and baseless conspiracy theories”.

Oh look, money isn’t everything after all!

End segue.

The divisive political climate has added tension. For several years, viewers have been subjected to Trump’s relentless assault on what he calls the fake news media and descriptions of the press as the enemy of the people.

AND an enemy of their own investigative journalists, apparently. Sex sells, truth doesn’t.

The erosion of public trust in the media also has created more caution. ABC news parent Walt Disney Co. paid more than $177M in 2017 to settle a defamation lawsuit filed by Beef Products Inc. over the network’s 2012 story on processed beef trimmings, known as “pink slime” which are used as low-cost filler. The network never retracted or apologized for the story and has gone to trial to defend it.

Segue:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_slime

Finely textured meat is produced by heating boneless beef trimmings to 107–109 °F (42–43 °C), removing the melted fat by centrifugal force using a centrifuge, and flash freezing the remaining product to 15 °F (−9 °C) in 90 seconds in a roller press freezer. The roller press freezer is a type of freezer that was invented in 1971 by BPI CEO Eldon Roth that can “freeze packages of meat in two minutes” and began to be used at Beef Products Inc. in 1981. The lean finely textured beef is added to ground beef as a filler or to reduce the overall fat content of ground beef. In March 2012 about 70% of ground beef sold in US supermarkets contained the product.

The recovered beef material is extruded through long tubes that are thinner than a pencil, during which time at the Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) processing plant, the meat is exposed to gaseous ammonia. … Gaseous ammonia in contact with the water in the meat produces ammonium hydroxide. The ammonia sharply increases the pH and damages microscopic organisms, the freezing causes ice crystals to form and puncture the organisms’ weakened cell walls, and the mechanical stress destroys the organisms altogether. The product is finely ground, compressed into pellets or blocks, flash frozen and then shipped for use as an additive.

As of March 2012 there was no labeling of the product, and only a USDA Organic label would have indicated that beef contained no “pink slime”. Per BPI, the finished product is 94% to 97% lean beef (with a fat content of 3% to 6%) has a nutritional value comparable to 90% lean ground beef, is very high in protein, low in fat, and contains iron, zinc and B vitamins.

…In 2001, the [USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service] approved the gaseous disinfection system as an intermediate step before the roller press freezer, and approved the disinfected product for human consumption, as an additive. The FSIS agreed with BPI’s suggestion that ammonia was a “processing agent” which did not need to be listed on labels as an ingredient. FSIS microbiologists Carl Custer and Gerald Zirnstein stated that they argued against the product’s approval for human consumption, saying that it was not “meat” but actually “salvage”, and that the USDA should seek independent verification of its safety, but they were overruled. In 2003, BPI commissioned a study of the effectiveness and safety of the disinfection process; the Iowa State University researchers found no safety concern in the product or in ground beef containing it.

The term “pink slime”, a reference to the product’s “distinctive look”, was coined in 2002 by Zirnstein in an internal FSIS e-mail.

Image result for Gerald Zirnstein

Gerald Zirnstein. I couldn’t find out what his beef with the process was but he not only coined the intentionally pejorative phrase “pink slime” but also crusaded for its destruction for over a decade on the strength of various arguments that were either easily falsifiable or knowingly accepted industry practice.

Expressing concern that ammonia should be mentioned on the labels of packaged ground beef to which the treated trimmings are added, Zirnstein stated “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling”. He later stated that his main concern was that connective tissue is not “meat”, and that ground beef to which the product had been added should not be called ground beef, since it is not nutritionally equivalent to regular ground beef.

In 2007, the USDA determined the disinfection process was so effective that it would be exempt from “routine testing of meat used in hamburger sold to the general public”.

A December 2009 investigative piece published by The New York Times questioned the safety of the meat treated by this process, pointing to occasions in which process adjustments were not effective. This article included the first public use of the term “pink slime” as a pejorative. In January 2010, The New York Times published an editorial reiterating the concerns posed in the news article while noting that no meat produced by BPI had been linked to any illnesses or outbreaks.

An 11-segment series of reports in March 2012 from ABC News brought widespread public attention to and raised consumer concerns about the product.

That was not investigative reporting. That was one man’s pogrom being weaponized against an entire industry. In light of CNN’s current campaigning for the replacement of beef with insect “meats”, this was a first salvo at destroying a staple of America’s healthy diet.

On March 25, 2012, BPI announced it would suspend operations at three of its four plants, being in “crisis planning”. The three plants produced a total of about 900,000 pounds of the product per day. BPI said it lost contracts with 72 customers, many over the course of one weekend, and production decreased from 5 million pounds of LFTB per week to below one million pounds a week at the nadir (lowest point of production).

Those God-damned, over-credulous Baby Boomers!

Effective May 25, 2012, BPI closed three of its four plants, including one in Garden City, Kansas, lost more than $400 million in sales, and laid off 700 workers. Production decreased to less than 2 million pounds in 2013. Cargill also significantly cut production of finely textured beef and in April 2012 “warned [that] the public’s resistance to the filler could lead to higher hamburger prices this barbecue season”. About 80% of sales of the product evaporated “overnight” in 2012, per the president of Cargill Beef. Cargill stopped production in Vernon, California, and laid off about 50 workers as well as slowing production at other plants including a beef-processing plant in Plainview, Texas, where about 2,000 people were laid off.

It’s incredible how much power the network media had for many years.

On September 13, 2012, BPI announced that it filed a $1.2 billion lawsuit, Beef Products, Inc. v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., against ABC News; three reporters (Diane Sawyer, Jim Avila and David Kerley) and others, claiming ABC News made nearly “200 false, misleading and defamatory statements, repeated continuously during a month-long disinformation campaign”, engaged in “product and food disparagement, and tortious interference with business relationships”. BPI called the ABC News series a “concerted disinformation campaign” against LFTB.

On June 28, 2017, ABC and BPI reached a settlement, ending the suit. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. A Walt Disney earnings report indicated that the amount paid was at least $177 million.

Some consumer advocacy groups pressed for pink slime’s elimination or for mandatory disclosure of additives in beef, but a spokesperson from Beef Products Inc. at the time said there was no need for any additional labeling, asking “What should we label it? It’s 100 percent beef, what do you want us to label it? I’m not prepared to say it’s anything other than beef, because it’s 100 percent beef”.

End segue.

Much of the investigative reporting efforts in recent years have been focused on Washington and the nonstop news frenzy created by the Trump White House.

It’s time to face the music, investigative journalists. You were never defenders of the public interest. You were always puppets of America-hating forces. Now that those forces face an existential threat in Donald Trump exposing their wicked, wicked deeds, you job is no longer to discover the truth.

It’s to bury the truth.

Choose your side: either us amateurs on the Internet or the monsters offering you money to follow the Narrative. Money, that is, until the Wokes go Broke.

You might investigate THAT story someday.

 

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