Sunday, January 13, 2013


Excerpt from "How they Slant TV" by Bruce Herschensohn (Former CIA agent)
U.S. Information Agency Video Expert's 'How They Slant TV - A to Z' list

A. Story placement:
The first story on a network newscast is largely perceived by the audience as being the most important news of the day; the second story, the second most important; and so on through the first group of stories.
If a network would like to give particular significance to a story or less significance to a story, their placement within the newscast establishes an immediate priority of importance within the viewer's mind.

B. The hold frame:
This is an old motion picture technique, which now has wider use in television than in historical films. Since November 1963 it has often been referred to as the "Jack Ruby Frame."
(When Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the technique was used on replays of the video tape to visually stop the action at the moment the bullet hit Oswald.)
The technique is used to "catch" something the audience might otherwise have missed. It interrupts the motion to hold on one still picture from the moving action so that a particular frozen image can be examined by the viewer. In sporting events such as football or the finish line of a close horse race, the hold frame is particularly useful.
It can also be used to give the impression of "catching" an event it did not "catch" or "catching" a person it did not "catch."

C. Selective Segmentation:
What was once a primitive or at least sloppy technique has become what is almost impossible to distinguish as it comes across the screen. The network's objective is to cut out portions of a speaker's comment and, by use of tied-together excerpts in false continuity, make the total effect different from his original in-context remarks. The primitive method was simply to physically cut out the film of the undesired area and splice and splice the two remaining wanted ends together. This results in a jump-cut, which can be seen by the audience and leaves room for suspicion and looks crude. The professional device is to use a cut-away of an interviewer or a cut-away of a chart, or whatever seems appropriate, and then cut back to the speaker. Both the visual and the audio cut can be accomplished while the cut-a-way is on screen. This can be used, and is most often used quite ethically to excerpt, cut down, or give certain segments of a speaker's performance without jarring visual effects, as would be evident without a cut-a-way. But it can and has been used unethically to change emphasis and meaning of what someone has said. It is difficult to recognize an excerpt. At times, but not always, it can be ascertained by an inconsistency in audio quality behind the cut-a-way or as the shot changes.

D. Commentator speculations that appear to be factual:
Although the words are couched and the periods are in the right places separating information from speculation, the end effect of this technique is to give the listener the impression that only facts are being reported. The transient character of television airways reporting permits this to be effective whereas, if the report were printed in a newspaper or magazine for examination, there would be risk of discovery. "There's reason to believe..." and "could be" are often used.

E. The truth but not the whole truth:
Although the whole truth is known to the reporter or commentator, only a portion is told, which casts an invalid impression by intent.

F. Catch phrases:
With unnoticed and unattributed bias, an editorialized catch-phrase is added to the nation's vocabulary, by force of habit. Catch phrasing is a printed-word and audio technique that has been streamlined by television with the use of "Anti-War Movement," "Peace Movement," "The Saturday Night Massacre," "The Mysterious Alert," "Operation Candor," "The White House Germans," and "The Christmas Bombing" (and, as previously mentioned, the word "Watergate" itself, used to house all charges of the period). The streamlining was applied by using catch phrases as matter-of-fact routine and by repetition as "fact phrases," making them appear to be non-biased actualities.

G. Utilizing the chemistry of combined audio and visuals:
Often a visual image gives one impression, the audio another, and the combination of the two used simultaneously creates a distortion. (Most significantly, as mentioned, this technique was used to inject "Watergate," without the use of the word, by the projection of the Watergate Complex on the rear screen behind the commentator while he talked of an unrelated story.) The modifications of this technique are endless.

H. Visual emphasis to audio by selection of phrases for audience to read:
Charles Guggenheim used this technique of printed words upon the screen in the television commercials for Senator McGovern's race for the Presidency.
Examples: 1. The technique was steadily applied by the networks as a method to emphasize out-of-context areas of the transcripts of President Nixon's tape recordings.

I. Pretense balancing:
The motive is to show that the presentation is showing all sides of a particular story when, in fact, the balance is tilted.

J. Selectivity of interviewees:
The meaning of a news event can be given a decided tilt by those selected to be interviewed.

K. Treatment and respect given an interviewee:
The audience is immediately given an impression about the person being interviewed by the questions he is asked and by the manner in which he is addressed by the reporter conducting the interview.

L. Prompting an interviewee:
Words can easily be put into an interviewee's mouth by the interviewer. It is most effective if the interviewer's question is phrased so that it can be cut out, while the answer is retained as a complete statement. Obviously, if the manner in which the interviewee answers is not a complete statement, the question cannot be omitted. The objective is to coach the interviewee.

M. Methods of reading:
Reading slow or reading fast or an accent on a particular word or a faint smile or a shake of the head give editorialization that cannot be found by rereading the text of the report or interview, but can be found only by viewing and listening to the newscast.

N. Set design for visual authority:
Every executive knows that a desk can give a visual sense of importance to the man who sits behind it. When in the company of a visitor, most executives follow the rule of rising from the chair behind the desk and walking to another chair without the separation of the desk as a barrier importance between the host and guest. The very visual posture of a commentator gives him a look of authority.

O. Narration rather than visuals - when it suits the purpose:
Often a new event will occur in which visuals will create a negative effect when the producer hopes to achieve a positive impression, or a positive effect when the producer hopes to achieve a negative impression. In this case, visuals defeat the purpose, and only narrative is used.
Example: When President Nixon worked in his Executive Office Building Suite, Dan Rather would refer to it as "his small, hideaway office" to CBS viewers. There were stills of the office, but stills would have defeated the purpose of Dan Rather's line, since the office was a very large one, used as his working quarters. The term "hideaway" was also inaccurate. Dan Rather was informed when the President went to work within his Executive Office Building suite, as were all the members of the White House Press Corps. It was, in fact, a more public suite than the Oval Office as it was the one place the public could see him enter and exit as they watched from the street. Dan Rather's continual referral to it as "the President's small, hideaway office" had a sinister ring of secrecy and isolation, and it could have raised suspicions in the minds of some viewers: "What is he doing in there?" "Why does he go to a small hideaway?"

P. Recap of past news to relate to the present:
While telling a real news event, a re-cap is given to something that happened days, even weeks ago, as though it had direct relation to the current event. In that way audience interest may be revived in a non-news story.

Q. Crediting and discrediting:
This newswriting technique is designed to give credit to an editorial factor of the writer's choosing.

R. Creation of news:
Sometimes there is no event during the day relating to a continuing story that the network wants to sustain. Creating a related event is no real problem. One method is for the network to send a newsman and a camera crew over to the Capitol to talk to a senator or congressman about "the story." If the senator or congressman is willing, he or she can make news in an instant. Many are willing, since it is an opportunity to be seen and heard by millions. Networks generally recognize a particular senator's or congressman's point of view before an interview is filmed. If it doesn't turn out as they want, it can be discarded. Other methods of creating news are to give an unimportant item an extended story length, to have reporters quote other reporters, or to emphasize the fact that there is no news regarding a "continuing story."

S. Inclusion or omission of crowd reaction:
When reporting a speech of a public figure, it is up to the film editor to decide whether to include the audience reaction of those witnessing the speech. Most often, reaction will be cut in the interest of time, but this is an option that can change the entire character of the address. The character can be retained without the loss of time by leaving in the applause, fading it to a low level, and bringing in the reporter's voice above the applause. During an election campaign report showing two candidates, this technique of inclusion or omission can be used to tilt the character of public reaction to one candidate against another.

T. Focal length:
Different lenses give separate impressions of the size of a crowd. Every photographer or cinematographer knows that a large crowd can look small, and a small crowd can look large simply by changing from a long lens to a short one, which changes the focal length. Television viewers who want to know the size of a crowd should look for the margins of crowd-ends, as it is the only sure manner in which to make an accurate judgment.

U. Tragedy and comedy style reporting:
There is no hiding of passions within this type of reporting. The commentator comes right out with it.
Examples: 1. John Chancellor, usually one of the most responsible commentators, gave a chilling example of dramatic tragedy reporting on the night of Archibald Cox's discharge and resignations of Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelhaus. When televised passion exceeds the immediate magnitude of the event, such excess can sometimes create its ultimate importance.
The following are excerpts from John Chancellor's report:
"The country, tonight, is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history...That is a stunning development, and nothing even remotely like it has happened in all of our history...You are watching a special NBC Report of another event this year that we never believed would have happened in the history of this Republic...A constitutional situation that is without precedent in the history of this Republic...In my career as a correspondent, I never thought I would be announcing these things..."

V. Oblique emphasis reporting:
This is the most important and most often used technique of network news. Seemingly straight reports are very often subtle editorializations. The use of words and phrases gives transient and subliminal points of view to the audience, most often without audience knowledge.

W. Ignoring follow-up stories:
Follow-up stories are often ignored when their usage would be beneficial to those the networks oppose or harmful to those the networks endorse. This technique is similiar to, but not quite the same as, a total disregard of an important story, to which we devote a later chapter.
Example: Howard Hunt testified before the Senate Select Committee about spy work that was conducted against Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964. The story died the next day.

X. Story association and grouping:
Telling one story and without pause going into another story can imply association between the two. This can be achieved either with or without narrative bridges by grouping stories in succession.

Y. Acceptance of TV editorials:
It has become an accepted fact that network news will have an editorial. But why? Why should an editorial view be placed in a news program? Why is it not possible for the audience to find out the news without hearing an editorial?
Example: NBC and CBS incorporated their editorials within the context of the news programming, which made it most impractical for a viewer to turn the television audio down and then up again just in time to catch the next piece of news. ABC uses a better method of placing its editorials at the end of the program, much like a newspaper editorial, which can be read or simply left unread.

Z. Repetition:
This is the simplest and oldest technique of any medium that wishes to propagandize a point of view. It was inherited from ages past and has never been used more strikingly or more effectively than it has in television newscasts. When a story appears night after night with little added to the account, or if a continuing story is repeatedly given precedence over other news items that are obviously more urgent in the context of the day's events, it is a safe bet that the network is setting up its own emphasis to maintain an objective, which is usually met. The creation of the most important story today, with repetition tomorrow, can truly make it important the day after tomorrow.
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