Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Ventriloquist Journalism: Most MSM journalists already have their story written and are looking for a specific quote that fits their narrative

Scott [Johnson’s] two posts on his and Victor Davis Hanson’s treatment by The New Yorker calls to mind one of the first and most important lessons I learned from my mentor in journalism, the great M. Stanton Evans
writes Powerline's Steven Hayward (thanks to Instapundit):

Most “mainstream” journalists are not merely biased, but have a narrative story line in mind when they begin “reporting,”  so that when they call you on the phone, they aren’t looking for actual information and perspective—they are looking for a specific quote to drop in their story that fits their narrative. The point is: when you deal with the media, it is not just their innate liberalism you need to be on guard for—you need to keep in mind that they already have their story written.

There’s nothing Scott could have done to alter the Wallace-Wells attack on him since it is obvious that he had his story line already done. There’s another especially egregious example of ventriloquist journalism going on right now besides Scott and Victor’s experience that I’ll come to in a moment.

Stan Evans had a typically great label for this—he called it “ventriloquist journalism.” Reporters have in mind a specific quote they’d like to have from you, and have developed great skill in teasing it out of people. Think of it as just one aspect of fake news. I had quite a bit of first-hand experience with this during my years in Washington, and I got good at spotting the technique and having the discipline not to give in to the usual reporter’s tricks.

Often I’d get a call from a reporter wanting my comment on something the Bush Administration was doing, and the question, in substance, was usually: “Don’t you think the Bush Administration is doing the wrong thing?” (Though always more artfully put than that.) And when I didn’t give the answer the “reporter” was looking for, they’d keep asking the same question over and over again in different forms, because what they needed for their story was a way to say something like, “But even a conservative at the American Enterprise Institute thinks Bush is making a mistake. ‘Bush is making a mistake,’ said Steven Hayward. . .”

Sometimes a reporter would keep me on the phone for 30 minutes or more, hoping I’d give in. I learned the discipline of never giving in to this trick, and what do you know? I was never quoted in any of the stories that “reporters” like this filed. Nor did any of the information or analysis I had about the issue make it into the story, because background information and perspective was not what the reporter was looking for.

 … You need to do your due diligence about any reporter who contacts you. I try to look up stories by any reporter who contacts me to see if I can divine their slant or predominant practices.

There is one other piece of advice I give to everyone: always run your own complete audio and/or video recording of any interview you do with a reporter. Then you have your own complete record to use in follow ups with editors, or if you want to do you own story about how it really went down.