John Ziegler is, of course, best known for his film Media Malpractice, an excellent and truly revealing documentary about the 2008 election that is a genuine must-see for anyone who wants to understand how the media intersects with, and tries to influence, American politics. Last night the director released a video describing deceptive editing on the part of 20/20 in a segment they aired about disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
There are a number of takeaways here. First, what Sterling said throughout the call was very clearly racist. It is also clear that Sterling does not think what he is saying is racist or, indeed, even remarkable or unique. It is also demonstrable and factual that 20/20 clipped the recording.
Now, it is absolutely not uncommon to clip a recording. I had to clip that interview with Rob Schneider to take out the parts that did not pertain to the topic; mainly conversational about his family and wife and assistant etc. It happens all the time. It’s really the only way to do clips of long audio on cable news or blogs and still keep the audience’s attention. What is unique about what 20/20 did, which Ziegler points out, is that they clipped it in a way that made it seem like they played the answer to a direct question. They definitely did not. They played the question, and a response to a different part of the conversation much later in the call.
But here is the weird part. There was no reason to do that. The difference between editing and “deceptive editing” is that the latter is designed to make something sound better or worse than it actually is. It’s most commonly to make Republicans or conservatives seem more evil. In this case, it would be to make Sterling sound more racist. Only it didn’t. Because it couldn’t. His actual response was just as terrible. Here is original audio, at just after 32 seconds in.
The call, in its entirety, from beginning to end, leaves the exact same impression that the edited version leaves. So why do it? Reflex? Habit? One can only speculate.
Ziegler is right: they definitely made it seem like the clip was a question and an answer when it clearly was not. But for the life of me I don’t know why they bothered. There has never been a clearer case of ingrained racial ideas than the case of Donald Sterling. He thinks it is offensive, and reflects poorly on him, that his girlfriend would go out in public with black men. He hammers that point home over and over. And try as he might, nothing he says contradicts or mitigates that awful point of view.