Quote: "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as much as you please."
Author: Mark Twain? Or KTNV-TV, Channel 13?
Twain said it. Whether Channel 13 adheres to it is at least debatable.
Dismissing a lawsuit last month charging fraud against Tire Works, filed by the Nevada Consumer Affairs Division, the attorney general claimed Channel 13’s coverage was why the case was "exaggerated" and "allegations were made to appear much larger than they were." (Do we even need to mention Nina R. again?)
Creating fear to fuel their newscasts has been chronicled here previously, citing omission of clarifying facts, ominous music, creepy sound effects, and breathless, tabloid-y reporter narration. Now, the Lied Animal Foundation has contacted this column, insisting a Darcy Spears investigation of alleged neglect, substandard conditions and allowing adoption of aggressive animals at the shelter was, as executive director Christine Robinson calls it, "one of the more egregious examples of a lack of integrity in journalism I have seen."
Among Lied’s assertions: That Spears relied on comments of two ex-Lied veterinarians who claim they were canned by the city after complaining about conditions, without revealing there were four on staff, sometimes disagreeing among themselves about the care and evaluation of animals. That Spears failed to mention that a behavioral expert who consulted with the Department of Justice in the Michael Vick case was contracted last year to assist Lied’s evaluation process. That the status of cooling units for animals was misrepresented by omitting details.
That — most alarming — while Spears did interview Robinson and Jason Smith, director of operations, three examples of alleged neglect the report cited weren’t presented to them by Spears, denying them the chance to respond.
This isn’t about shelter conditions, but how conclusions about them were reached. Partial facts, shades of truthfulness, crafty editing — journalistic voodoo you wouldn’t want practiced on you.
"We don’t claim to be perfect," says Robinson, who concedes some failings at the shelter. "We … realize our responsibility to this community, including members of the news media. We ask only for a level of fairness we did not receive."
Certainly, a target of an investigation, fair or otherwise, will likely be … testy. Also, compression of information is a fact of journalism. TV reporters have minutes to tell complex stories, not hours to produce documentaries. Storytelling in shorthand is the challenge.
That said, accuracy, even in abbreviated circumstances, is the crux of credibility. Drama and ratings thrive in black and white. Fairness can be gray, conflicted, confusing, not a clear-cut gut punch. Ideally, then, news outlets will trust viewers to suss out their own conclusions based on a balanced recounting of relevant facts.
Past conduct doesn’t validate charges of current unfairness, but Channel 13’s journalism tendencies, as a trend, lend them weight. Attempting to reach Spears to address the accusations, we received no response. At least — as an essential element of journalism — we offered her the chance.
You Ask. They Investigate. We Wonder …
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0256.