Glenn Reynolds links to Matt Drudge’s latest update on Helen Thomas’s meltdown after being caught saying that “I’ll kill myself” if Dick Cheney announced he’d be running for the presidency. Drudge reports that “White House press doyenne Helen Thomas is plenty peeved at her longtime friend Albert Eisele, editor of THE HILL newspaper in Washington, D.C.”:
Thomas said yesterday at the White House that her comments to Eisele were for his ears only. “I’ll never talk to a reporter again!” Thomas was overheard saying.
“We were just talking — I was ranting — and he wrote about it. That isn’t right. We all say stuff we don’t want printed,” Thomas said.
But Eisele said that when he called Thomas, “I assume she knew that we were on the record.”
“She’s obviously very upset about it, but it was a small item — until Drudge picked it up and broadcast it across the universe,” Eisele said.
Still, he noted that reporters aren’t that happy when the tables are turned. “Nobody has thinner skin than reporters,” Eisele said with a laugh.
Glenn adds, “This kind of turnabout will only get more common, of course”.
It will. But Thomas’s meltdown–staggeringly ironic, as it comes from someone who spends her days praying for (and preying upon) similar gaffes from the president and his press secretary–is only the latest in a string of examples of reporters who specialize in playing “gotcha games” with their interviewees, and acting like hypocrites if the tables are ever turned.
In between setting up CNBC and then Fox News, Roger Ailes wrote a superb book on public speaking called You Are The Message, which, not surprisingly, given his career as a TV producer, had numerous tips on working with the media–and avoiding getting worked over by them. At one point, Ailes wrote:
Recognize that any time you are in the presence of a newsperson, the conversation is fair game for the record. Jimmy Carter’s famous confession that he sometimes had lust in his heart for women other than his wife was uttered to a Playboy magazine journalist as he was leaving Carter’s home at the conclusion of the formal interview.
Even Mike Wallace, big-game hunter of the unguarded moment, got caught in this snare. As recounted on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal by TV critic Daniel Henninger in March of 1981, Wallace:
was interviewing a banker in San Diego about an alleged home improvement fraud involving mainly black and Hispanics, who supposedly had signed contract they couldn’t understand, which led to foreclosures on their home mortgages.
The bank hired a film crew of its own to record the interview with Mr. Wallace. The bank apparently left its recorder running during a break in the CBS interview, and the tape has Mr. Wallace saying, in reply to a question about why the black and Hispanic customers would have signed their contracts, “They’re probably too busy eating their watermelon and tacos.”
When the Los Angeles Times got wind of this indiscretion and reported it, there was at least a minor uproar from reporters and others about Wallace’s “racially disparaging joke”. Wallace ultimately pleaded “no bias”, admitting that over time he’d privately told jokes about many ethnic groups but that his record “speaks for itself”.
Henninger added, “Needless to say, this has to be the most deliciously lip-smacking bit of irony to pop out of the oven in a long time. Here we have the dogcatcher cornered. The lepidopterist pinned. The preacher in flagrante delicto. This is the fellow who has imputed all manner of crimes against social goodness to a long lineup of businessmen and bureaucrats. From here on out, all future victims of Mr. Wallace can take some small comfort in knowing that although they may stand exposed as goof-offs, thieves and polluters, he’s the guy who made the crack about the watermelons and tacos.”
You know the old saying “They can dish it out but they can’t take it”?
In October 1999 the ABC newsmagazine 20/20 was about to air a story on a man named Michael Ellis, the founder and CEO of a company that markets a controversial weight-loss pill. It was the kind of investigation that doesn’t always end well for the person on the other end of the camera, the one being interviewed. So, fearing his comments might be taken out of context and that the interview might be edited to make him look bad, before the 20/20 piece aired Ellis took the unedited transcript and video of the entire interview-which he’d recorded on his own-and put it out on the World Wide Web.
This made people at ABC News very angry. In fact, one vice-president told the New York Times, without a hit of irony, that “We don’t want other people attempting to get into and shift the journalism process.”
Next to be heard was former ABC News Vice President Richard Wald, now teaching young journalists at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Wald called the CEO’s strategy, “a not-so-subtle form of intimidation”.
Got that? When the media disseminates information about “other people”, it’s news. When “other people” disseminate information about themselves, it’s intimidation.