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News Halperin Memo (aka ABC rallies around Truth )

  1. Oct 10, 2004 #1
    Halperin Memo (aka ABC rallies around "Truth")

    Here's the memo from ABC NEWS Political Director, Mark Halperin, as captured by the Drudge Report. ABC, for some reason has, as they indicate, "redesigned" their site, and the Halperin memo, which was apparently there yesterday, has disappeared. Halperin's memo shows this guy to be mighty blessed. Mighty blessed! Much more blessed than the "common man" and as such, Halperin apparently feels a great burden and a great corresponding duty. In fact, his insights are such that it appears he comes very close to reading the minds of Kerry and Bush, as well as those in the Kerry and Bush camps, and discerning their deepest motivations. In Halperin's words, Kerry’s "distortions," "out of context" statements, and "mistakes," which Halperin indicates Kerry makes "all the time," seem innocent enough to Halperin, at least they're not intended as "central to his efforts." Any similarities between Kerry and Bush when discussing "distortions," "out of context" statements, and "mistakes" are actually the mistakes of the common man – 'the people' Halperin, with his much greater abilities, in a much wiser skin, has been burdened with. Hence, Halperin concludes while "It's up to Kerry to defend himself, of course. But as one of the few news organizations with the skill and strength to help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying to serve the public interest. Now is the time for all of us to step up and do that right." That "right" being, in Halperin's burdened mind - that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable...

    Thank you Mr. Halperin for not holding the sides "equally accountable," and thank you for keeping your politics out of your reporting. God bless you Mr. Halperin -

    Here's the Halperin Memo mentioned, provided at Drudge

    http://www.drudgereport.com/mh.htm [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
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  3. Oct 10, 2004 #2


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    If in his view the Bush distortions are worse than the Kerry distortions, accuracy in reporting would require him to say so. You are always at the mercy of the reprter's and editor's judgments.
  4. Oct 10, 2004 #3
    I agree there's no such thing as bias-free news. There can't be. As people, we're all biased, and it's not computer programs running these organizations - it's "people." In news reports, bias shows in the selection of adjectives, whose prospective is focused on, and what gets left out. The best one can do, I suspect, is to get his or her news from multiple sources and distill that. I really feel that the TV news networks don't seem to care very much about maintaining a separation between straight news reporting and Op-Ed. Yet, in Halperin's open-ended memo instruction, there's potential abuse that goes beyond the obvious bias to which, at least I've grown accustomed.

    I would have no problem with Mr. Halperin's internal memo if, for example, he had provided specific instruction like "…the Bush camp is lining up behind the Swift Boat Vets, Kerry isn't lining up behind the Moveon.org group, we should cover that and the specific issues included. We have a duty. Let's find what’s there, if anything" The instruction Halperin gave to his underlings wasn't of that kind. The issue I have with the Halperin Memo is that he makes a general statement, not a specific one. A general statement that the two candidates should NOT be held equally accountable. Nothing more and nothing less. A general statement with a general instruction. Look, I expect specific types of bias coming from certain "reporters" when issuing reports related to specific stories. I suppose it's this encompassing blanket Halperin has thrown over this entire political campaign that is troubling.
  5. Oct 10, 2004 #4


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    If you think he's got his facts wrong that's fine, but by objecting to the statement:
    "We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that." [emphasis added]
    you are effectively saying that the facts ought to be distorted if they only support one side. As it seems unlikely that that is what you intended, why leave off the final phrase of that sentence in your quote?
  6. Oct 10, 2004 #5


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    No, giving opinion is not "accuracy in reporting". Opinion is only apropriate for Op-Ed pieces and Editorials. Giving opinion in reporting is what we very accurately call Biased reporting.
  7. Oct 10, 2004 #6
    What facts? What facts are in Halperin's memo? That's the entire point and the opening for abuse created by the Halperin memo, Halperin provides no facts. This is an instruction / reminder to Haperin's subordinates. The major issue with Halperin’s general, non-specific instructions - rests with your answers to these questions --- Is the general tone of the memo is one that is telling ABC reporters to focus on Bush’s pending misdeeds? ------- Or is it one that tells them to focus of Kerry’s pending misdeeds? OR --- as you seem to suggest, one that is neutral in tone? Go back and read the memo. Hint: It sure as hell ain't #2. True, your perceptions and personal bias color your feelings and probably your responses - but I suspect honest answers will be that this memo is encouragement, and encouragement from very high places in ABC, to pay additional attention to the Bush negatives. BUT what those negatives are - just aren't in the memo. These negatives may yet to even exist. They may exist in a reporters mind only – or worse, in his/her desire only. Halperin has created an open-ended invitation. As mention in my post above, Halperin could have provided specific instruction regarding the Bush campaign. He chose not to. This specific instruction would have followed that prudent course. Yet, instead, Halperin issued general, non-specific, and unclear instruction regarding the ABC’s reporter’s "responsibilities" regarding Bush and his election efforts. Nothing specific – just a general reminder of expectations. A blanket statement in regards to Bush --- an instruction necessitated by the desire to generally 'make it fair for Kerry.' Christ folks, what would this board be doing if FOX NEWS issued such a report. I remind you that 50% of the population doesn't favor the candidate you favor – whoever that is -- so go ahead, replace the words "Kerry" wherever you read "Bush" in Halperin’s very general instruction and come back and tell me your responses would be the same. The "same" not for you with your pre-conceived notions, but 'fair' to the electorate.

    So again, here's my concern --- it’s the fact that specific instances, i.e. FACTS, are missing from Halperin's general instruction to his subordinates that gives me the shivers.

    And a side issue --- if Halperin's memo is a simple innocuous reminder that ABC’s professional reporters shouldn't abide by the implied 'quota system' when reporting stories ---- well this makes me wonder about the professionalism and intelligence of ABC reporters prior to this memo. Was there a prior memo instructing ABC reporters to 'even out' the reporting? Were these reporters on a self-inflicted quota to the extent that Halperin felt the need to issue such a memo? If so, why not say that? So, if no prior memo or instruction otherwise, the ABC reporters thought, prior to the Halperin memo, that they HAD to have an even number of positive and negative stories for each candidate? Hence – Halperin’s general, and gentle reminder to the contrary?

    Why did Halperin issue this memo?
  8. Oct 10, 2004 #7


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    It's a short memo, not a treatise. He gives citations to the New York Times and Howard Fineman. He probably also presumes some set of facts is known to the reporters. It's not the sort of document that strikes me as easily assessed on this point without a good deal of context.

    However, nothing in your response really addresses what I said. Indeed, the quality of his facts don't really matter to what I said. (Anyone who interprets the previous sentence as saying "facts don't matter" gets a Knee-Jerk of the Month award.) What I said was that given Halperin's statement that:
    "We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides 'equally' accountable when the facts don't warrant that."
    and that your use of the statement leaves off the final phrase, i.e. "when the facts don't warrant that", that you have produced the implication that the facts should be distorted if they only support one side.

    How? Well, Halperin's original statement is essentially a conditional:
    If the facts only support one side, then treating both sides "equally" does not serve the public interest.
    The truth of this conditional is independent of any given set of facts it might be applied to. Personally, I think it sounds reasonable.

    By leaving off the final phrase of the sentence, you turn Halperin's statement into a declaration:
    Treating both sides "equally" does not serve the public interest.
    However, given that the final phrase was part of Halperin's statement, and you chose to ignore it, the implication of your statement becomes:
    Treating both sides "equally" serves the public interest, even when the facts do not support it.
    Is this really what you wanted to say?
    I suggested that one particular sentence, which I do think is neutral in tone, was misused in your argument. Overall? I think the memo is stating that Halperin thinks that a focus on Bush's use of distortion is currently warranted. The question is why? It's pretty clear that he thinks the facts support this, and also thinks his citations reflect those facts. This is an internal memo, not an article intended for publication. It was written within the entire context of prior communications between Halperin and his staff. Just because you (or I) don't know why he thinks the facts support this position doesn't mean his staff doesn't.
    This is not justified by the text. The obvious interpretation is that these negatives comprise events referred to by the NYT or Fineman.
    Yes, but why? Was it a conspiracy? Was he just being sloppy? Were the facts he referred to obvious to the memo's intended audience? It's all speculation.

    Note that I have not followed this story. I know nothing about Halperin. Everything I've said is based on the text you gave for the memo and your comments. If there are details that raise what you're saying beyond speculation, you haven't given them.
    Fox's John Moody puts things like the following in his memos:
    "Into Fallujah: It's called Operation Vigilant Resolve and it began Monday morning (NY time) with the US and Iraqi military surrounding Fallujah. We will cover this hour by hour today, explaining repeatedly why it is happening. It won't be long before some people start to decry the use of 'excessive force.' We won't be among that group."
    It's good he knows how to characterize the operation before it has even been completed...

    Here's another one from Moody. Is this an unbiased directive?
    Kerry's speech on the economy at Georgetown is likely to move onto the topic of Iraq. We should take the beginning of KErry's speech, see if it contains new information (aside from a promise to create 10 million jobs) and see if other news at the time is more compelling. It is not required to take it start to finish.
    The words "Kerry" and "Bush" don't appear in the sentence I was talking about, so to that part, yeah, my response would be the same. Obviously, it makes a difference to the entire document.
    Worse shivers than Moody giving obviously slanted instructions?
    Well, that is the question, isn't it? What pattern was he trying to correct? And if the pattern is to avoid confronting the administration with facts out of fear of retaliation, then what would that mean? I'm not saying there's any evidence of said pattern—to interpret the memo that way would be speculation. Or, in other words, it has just as much support as the interpretation you offer.
  9. Oct 11, 2004 #8


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    ABC really needs to be careful. They've stepped over the line and they are in real danger of criminal election tampering.
  10. Oct 11, 2004 #9
    Treatise or memo, how does that prevent one from providing specifics? A specific line here or a line or two there could have worked wonders. Instead, Halperin filled his memo with general instruction. Halperin wasn't prevented from citing specifics, again, he decided not to, for whatever reasons.

    Well he mentions their names and then gives us what they've said in his words – And what he claims they say makes them just as guilty as Halperin. Here's what Halperin claims --

    First, you stated that you know only what I provided here in regards to the Halperin memo. As you state here --
    And as you see, I provided the ENTIRE MEMO in the initial post, and it was from that post, I assume, you got the entire quote you mention. In addition, there was an ellipsis at the end of the quote telling you it went on. Both the entire quote was provided, and when used later in that SAME post, an ellipsis telling you, if you desire to look at the entire quote – since the one provided wasn’t whole. So --you could simply look in that same post from the entire quote, which you apparently did. Second, Halperin’s instruction makes it clear that this memo was about Bush and focusing on the Bush negatives. That much has already been described by Halperin BEFORE the quote. Third, I suspect you’re attempting to divert attention from the issue by engaging in a discussion about a quote, verse partial quote.

    Anyway, Halperin issues a general, unsupported instruction against Bush - and issues that instruction to his subordinate reporters at ABC, and that sits well on the stomach for some here. And least there is confusion, this general, non-specific instruction is one intended to focus ABC’s reporters on Bush negatives and away from Kerry negatives. This is seen from the instruction itself – "…Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done.

    Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win."

    These are Halperin's unsupported generalized claims and worse, are Halperin's instruction to his subordinates TELLING them the way the world IS. An instruction questionable enough in it's own right, considering the profession and the subject mater, but then Halperin takes this even further. After he tells his reporters what the generalized situation IS, he goes on to use that unsupported given about the political world as support for his next instruction ---

    We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that.

    Considering Halperin's prior instruction on HOW his subordinates SHOULD VIEW each candidate, that is, focus and target Bush ---- Halperin's next statement regarding about not holding each candidate "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that speaks for itself. And it's not one of "neutrality" as some attempt to frame this.

    Bottom line, ABC has shown themselves to be little better than CBS this political election –

    He "probably" presumes --- where did you get that from? It's not anywhere in the Halperin instruction, in fact, Halperin tells his subordinate WHAT the generalized "facts" are, as shown in the memo and quote above. He doesn't seem to presume anything.

    Possible. And if true here than it's true everywhere, with any internal correspondence – no matter how damning. You're forever barred from discussing memos such as this one if the burden falls on the reader to fill in the blanks left by the creator. Halperin failed to put that specific factual context in his memo, which doesn’t take a treatise to do, but a line or two or a specific cite to specific information. Halperin fails to do this and, to my knowledge, has yet to remedy this omission - if a remedy exists.

    So? Why do you pretend that Halperin gave us anything – quality or quantity?

    True. But that doesn’t mean that the questions disappear an that the memo shouldn't be given it's clear meaning until those unrevealed facts are provided by way of explanation. Attempting to draw attention from the clear words on the memo by suggesting that clarifying information lies elsewhere - is so far, unsupported.

    Read the memo again. Halperin mentions these two, and then mentions their positions. Those positions advocate a bias in favor of Kerry and against Bush. No specifics, no support. So, if there really is more out there waiting for discovery that will explain this all – than that should be provided. If there is nothing to explain this memo beyond Halperin’s leaked words themselves, we’ll see nothing –or nothing credible. This memo is no secret now, and this memo now has widespread existence on the Internet. It would appear that if Halperin had anything to add by way of explanation, he would have produced that. To date and to my knowledge, there has been nothing provided by way of explanation from Halperin – or even ABC.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2004
  11. Oct 11, 2004 #10
    And one other important concern -- IF this isn't a politically motivated memo issued by ABC’s Political Director, why does he set the tone of the memo with the opening language – It goes without saying that the stakes are getting very high for the country and the campaigns - and our responsibilities become quite grave.

    Why all this 'getting' and 'becoming' as mentioned in the opening memo lines, especially as the election draws near? Why are the "stakes" "getting very high for the country" when you're a neutral reporter. Either one candidate wins or the other wins. Facts remain facts. As a neutral reporter you have no "stake" in those outcomes or the existance of those facts - outside of reporting them. The facts are properly reported by the media and the consumer uses that properly provided information when deciding issues. Let the facts be facts and let them speak for themselves. This reporter responsibility is no more "grave" now than five months ago. It isn't "getting" anywhere if you're truly neutral. What's at "stake" or what is "becoming quite grave" to a reporter that is actually neutral, is the same, election after election. Reporting salient information as it becomes available. A reporter's "stake" in the outcome are not "very high" or unusually low. That is, unless you have something additional in mind. And here, that something addition is attempting to create a justification for slanting the coverage against Bush and in Kerry's favor.

    The real point here is the content of the memo, and what it instructs ABC's reporters to do. As a fair reporter, you report specific facts. IF those specific facts lead a reasonable mind to those conclusions – than so be it. You, as a neutral reporter, do NOT submit your conclusions. And conclusions are what Halperin proves to his reporters in his memo.
  12. Oct 12, 2004 #11
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