November 10, 2007

Is Everyone's Game Fixed Now?

One of my favorite films, John Sayles' Eight Men Out, tells the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, who threw the World Series for gambler cash. It shows what happens when people feel an entitlement to something other than integrity. Although the film has ample sympathy for the players, it also shows how people can rationalize selling out that integrity in excuse-making when they can't face the reality of their own actions.

Today we have two stories that show the impulse did not die in 1920. First, the Hillary Clinton campaign fixed a question-and-answer session at an appearance at Grinnell University, although no one will admit that Hillary herself knew which questioner to address:

According to a report on the Grinnell University Web site, the Clinton campaign arranged for some of the questions for the candidate to be asked by college students:

"On Tuesday Nov. 6, the Clinton campaign stopped at a biodiesel plant in Newton as part of a weeklong series of events to introduce her new energy plan. The event was clearly intended to be as much about the press as the Iowa voters in attendance, as a large press core helped fill the small venue....

"After her speech, Clinton accepted questions. But according to Grinnell College student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff ’10, some of the questions from the audience were planned in advance. 'They were canned,' she said. Before the event began, a Clinton staff member approached Gallo-Chasanoff to ask a specific question after Clinton’s speech. 'One of the senior staffers told me what [to ask],' she said.

"Clinton called on Gallo-Chasanoff after her speech to ask a question: what Clinton would do to stop the effects of global warming. Clinton began her response by noting that young people often pose this question to her before delving into the benefits of her plan.

"But the source of the question was no coincidence — at this event 'they wanted a question from a college student,' Gallo-Chasanoff said."

One might understand the reasons the campaign would "throw" a supposedly impromptu Q&A session after Hillary's disastrous debate appearance a fortnight ago. She clearly had not prepared to speak about Eliot Spitzer's plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. Nor had she formulated any kind of coherent response to the demands to open her White House records while she insisted on running on her experience as First Lady as a reason to win the nomination. She could hardly afford any more hardballs.

However, this incident certainly calls into question whether Hillary has fixed previous sessions. So far, no one has come forward to allege any other question-planting in earlier appearances, but Grinnell seems a strange place to start. Just the fact that we know it happened once makes it reasonable to question whether it has happened before, and Hillary's credibility has been damaged enough to start investigating it. Once someone throws away their integrity, it is difficult to get it back.

The mainstream media may find the same problem in a French courtroom. Pajamas Media has followed the case of the al-Dura taping, in which the French network France 2 has tried to defend itself against charges of staging an incident which touched off an intifada. In that defense, France 2 has essentially told the court that all other news media does the same in its reporting from the Middle East:

So when asked why he had inserted unconnected footage of an Israeli soldier firing a rifle into the Al Dura sequence in order to make it look like the Israelis had killed the boy in cold blood, an official of PA TV responded:

These are forms of artistic expression, but all of this serves to convey the truth… We never forget our higher journalistic principles to which we are committed of relating the truth and nothing but the truth.

When Talal abu Rahmah received an award for his footage of Muhammad al Dura in Morocco in 2001, he told a reporter, “I went into journalism to carry on the fight for my people.”

These remarks serve as an important prelude to considering the France2 rushes that will be shown in court in Paris on November 14 in the Enderlin France2 vs. Philippe Karsenty defamation case. These tapes were filmed by Talal abu Rahmah on September 30, 2000, and for seven years, Enderlin has claimed that the tapes prove him right and show the boy in such unbearable death throes that he cut them out of his report. But several experts who have seen the tapes (this author included) claim that the only scene of al Dura that Enderlin cut was the final scene where he seems alive and well; and still more disturbingly the rest of the rushes are filled with staged scenes. Indeed there seems to be a kind of “public secret” at work on the Arab “street”: people fake injury, others evacuate them hurriedly (and without stretchers) past Palestinian cameramen like Talal, who use Western video equipment to record these improvised scenes. Pallywood: the Palestinian movie industry.

Western news agencies rely on local stringers, reporters, and photographers in order to get news from hot spots such as Gaza, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on. As the al-Dura incident has shown, they don't care much for editorial fact-checking afterwards as long as they get something juicy enough to sell newspapers and TV advertisements. It doesn't hurt, either, when the result confirms institutional biases against Israel and the United States.

These are the rationalizations used by people like France 2 and its competitors, or Hillary Clinton's campaign team. The ends justify the means. We know the Israelis are brutes, so if our stringers falsify one particular story, it serves the greater truth. Hillary's team knew that they had provided her a detailed answer on a certain question, so they just made sure that someone asked the question they had teed up for Hillary. The fact that it doesn't differ much from what Charles Van Doren did on Twenty-One didn't apparently bother people -- until they got caught.

Without integrity, politicians and news agencies are absolutely nothing. They are game-show hosts, only less intellectual. If they have to fix games, it means they already know they're losers. Even the Black Sox had more integrity than that.


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» Hillary Clinton’s Planted Questions from Stop The ACLU
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