Friday, April 02, 2004

CNN and David Letterman

What did they know and when did they know it? Paul Krugman sets the record straight in today's New York Times.

"On Monday, Mr. Letterman ran a video clip of a boy yawning and fidgeting during a speech by George Bush. It was harmless stuff; a White House that thinks it's cute to have Mr. Bush make jokes about missing W.M.D. should be able to handle a little ribbing about boring speeches.

CNN ran the Letterman clip on Tuesday, just before a commercial. Then the CNN anchor Daryn Kagan came back to inform viewers that the clip was a fake: "We're being told by the White House that the kid, as funny as he was, was edited into that video." Later in the day, another anchor amended that: the boy was at the rally, but not where he was shown in the video.

On his Tuesday night show, Mr. Letterman was not amused: "That is an out and out 100 percent absolute lie. The kid absolutely was there, and he absolutely was doing everything we pictured via the videotape."

But here's the really interesting part: CNN backed down, but it told Mr. Letterman that Ms. Kagan "misspoke," that the White House was not the source of the false claim. (So who was? And if the claim didn't come from the White House, why did CNN run with it without checking?)

In short, CNN passed along a smear that it attributed to the White House. When the smear backfired, it declared its previous statements inoperative and said the White House wasn't responsible. Sound familiar?"

Is CNN lying now, or were they lying before? Did the White House really call them or not? If they didn't call, why would they say they did? If they did call, why are they now claiming that they didn't? The Freedom Rider bets that the White House called. Krugman's column addresses a far more serious issue, Bush administration efforts to smear Richard Clarke with the help of the compliant media. (You must register to read Times stories, but registration is free.) While seemingly less trivial, the CNN incident tells us quite a bit about the appalling lack of journalistic standards. Wolf Blitzer, CNN anchor, passed along a smear about Clarke and then backed down when Krugman called him on it. The Daily Howler gives us more examples of the media taking their cues from the White House on the subject of Richard Clarke.