Emails? Doctored emails? CNN denies trying to script a question for their “town hall” propaganda piece.
I also know the traditional media denials are not always what they appear to be.
Because it happened to me.
I am a very careful chronicler of my exchanges with the press — ever since I was a teenager. I kept more than just emails, but also letters, and even voice mails. When I worked as a journalist, I would tape record all my interviews because I knew that the media wasn’t exactly honest and truthful.
I learned that lesson early on. I was in university when the CBC had a television report about the war in the former Yugoslavia — they based it on a UN report that had been released that day — and it was one I happened to get my hands on as well.
So imagine my surprise when their report contradicted the UN report at the tail end of the story when the anchor’s final words on the story made it very skewed against Serbs (and yet the report said no such thing).
So I called and complained to a producer, who read back the report to me — and conveniently left out the last sentence. I reminded her it was the anchor who said it — and that I recorded that segment so I could play it back to her as I was a perfectly sane person with excellent hearing.
So why deny what was said? I had a video of the newscast. I had the original report. If they believed what they said, they could have defended what they said on air.
I realized how important it was to keep a paper trail when dealing with the press.
When I began working as a journalist, my breakthrough article was in Presstime magazine about the launch of the National Post. I interviewed the then managing editor of the Toronto Star who had boasted that he saw other papers come and go, an he was going to see the Post come and go, too. I asked if I could use the quote and he said yes.
It was a phone interview, I used the quote, and the magazine ran with my story.
And then when it was published, the editor of the magazine had written to me, telling me that the editor I interviewed denied saying that. What did my notes say?
My notes said the same thing as my recorded interview — and proved he said it, he said a lot worse that I did not use as it was just petty, and neither newsworthy nor the focus of the story, and he was given a chance to walk back from that quote, but didn’t. I didn’t trick him. I didn’t expect him to say anything like it because other editors and publishers from rival papers were not behaving in the same swaggering way.
He owned that quote, and I sent the recording.
He said he would apologize to me. He died about a decade later, and never kept his word.
I can tell you right now if it were his word against mine, I would have been screwed. No one would believe a young, no-name female reporter. No one. It would have ruined me before my career truly began.
Despite the fact that the magazine kept me on, and I managed my career just fine, I was shaken by that exchange. I was shaken despite the fact I had learned before I was a journalist the importance of documenting my interactions with the press because you never knew what they would do to get out of a scrape.
Emails can be released, but it says very little. Television news is scripted from beginning to end. Even talk radio, where you have callers phoning in, are screened carefully.
What becomes of this squabbling, I have no idea, but screening, editing, scripting, and choreographing are television news staples. The safest route when dealing with journalists is to record everything during an interview as well as before and after, save every email and voicemail, and make sure you keep back-ups of everything, and do not exaggerate or try to bolster your claims by editing emails if you didn’t record the incriminating phone call, personal interview, or the conversation before or after it.
Also, tell them you are recording. Do not make trouble for yourself by breaking any laws. I have always been upfront about it — and I still had an editor deny something he knew beforehand was being recorded by a journalist.
There will always be a denial if you have a dispute with the press. There will always be a spin that hints that you are a devious liar or a hysterical loon who is now suffering from a case of remorse, and that they are perfect and sane truth-tellers who are always honest and accurate.
I know because I have been there.