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Comments by YACCS
Friday, May 28, 2004

How to complain to the media

CNN got it wrong, Al Qaeda is working for the President's reelection.

Yesterday, CNN's Justice Deparment correspondent, Kelli Arena, said the following:

[Kelli] ARENA: Neither John Kerry nor the president has said troops pulled out of Iraq any time soon. But there is some speculation that al Qaeda believes it has a better chance of winning in Iraq if John Kerry is in the White House.

BEN VENZKE, INTELCENTER: Al Qaeda feels that Bush is, even despite casualties, right or wrong for staying there is going to stay much longer than possibly what they might hope a Democratic administration would.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I know Kelli Arena. We worked on the NYU student newspaper in the 80's, and while I haven't seen her in 15 years, I can state that she's neither stupid nor evil and I seriously doubt a tool of the GOP. She wasn't a close friend or anything, but she was a reasonable person when I worked with her.

However,many of the e-mails people have been reporducing on Kos and Atrios attack her personally and not the fact that what she said was misleading. She didn't say AQ was on Team Kerry, this idiot Venzke did. All she did was report what he said. Which is her job.

And that's the problem. Just because she said something you disagree with, and I think the comment is not only stupid, but wrong, savaging her, calling her an idiot and generally implying she's taking her marching orders from Karl Rove is ineffective. How would you react if your e-mail box was filled with invective as her's is today? You'd probably either get really angry or blow it off. What you would NOT do is take it seriously.

What you have to understand is that reporters have very thin skins. I can tell you that Arena and her bosses are both surprised by the reaction and have discounted most of them. Just like they discount the wingnuts when they run pictures of Abu Ghraib.

There is a way to complain to the news media and one which will nearly always get their attention, and it's not an invective filled letter, which might make you feel better, but will surely be deleted and ignored.

1) Be polite

Journalists are people and really, really thin skinned. If you insult them, they stop listening. Not all do, but most get their backs up like an alley cat. So when you write to criticize, don't say they worship at the alter of Karl Rove or John Kerry. Mention coverage that they've done which you've liked. Address them in a way that will get them to listen. Anyone on TV or in a major newspaper gets a lot of nasty mail, some from unhinged cranks and chronic masturbators.

2) Don't accuse them, directly, of political bias

Most journalists take pride in their objectivity. Once you say they're biased, they stop listening. If you think there is a genuine issue of bias, write to their editors, not the reporter. Your goal is to point out an error, not question their professional integrity, unless you have a reason to.

3) Leave out the invective

Once you accuse them of working for the GOP, you lose the battle. Simple as that. They're people, they made a mistake, and you're pointing it out, not questioning them like a prosecutor.

4) Make your point with facts

A good letter to write to CNN is not how Arena screwed up, but the lack of balance in quoting this Venzke guy without balance. That's the sin here. This guy can think what he want and say what he wants. The problem is a lack of balance. Arena needed to quote someone else rejecting his wacky and disproven theory. After all, AQ was on Team Bush since March. Don't accuse her of his words. Ask where the other viewpoint is.

5) Do some research

Find out who the editors are. Not just the President of CNN News Gathering, but the direct supervisors are in Washington and their bosses and CC your letter to all of them. Once a letter is CC'd, they are far more likely to deal with it. You can always delete one e-mail, but five going into the right boxes may get action.

The goal here is to deal with the coverage and the lack of balance, not insult journalists who report stupid comments from wackos. The issue is getting the other side represented, not merely heaping invective on people.

posted by Steve @ 3:47:00 PM

3:47:00 PM

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