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Posted: 8/10/2004 23:04
Last Updated: 9/15/2008 11:04

The 'Dean Scream' That Never Was: Scrutinizing Spin and Media Misportrayals
Trae Dorn
Originally Appeared in The Flip Side Volume 1, Issue 5.5 (Special Primary Edition) - February 16th, 2004
We all remember the image, we all saw it a thousand times. Former Democratic front-runner Howard Dean, seemingly yelling like a madman after placing third in the Iowa caucuses. The media was delighted, because a formerly favorite candidate losing his cool up in front of a crowd is always a good piece to boost ratings. Right up until, and even a few times after the New Hampshire primary, every news channel and television outlet was re-airing the footage. It was a piece of remarkable film. But there's a simple question that no one seemed to ask: What is it really a film of?

The story that you didn't hear was the story told by the people who witnessed the supposed scream. No, I'm not talking about the obviously biased Dean supporters. I'm talking about the reporters and other supposedly non-biased witnesses on site.

If you look at the film, it's clear that Dean is holding a wireless microphone. Now, the average person may not be familiar with the way a television crew records an event like this. While each news outlet covering the event will use their own cameras for the visuals, they often will tap directly into the PA system for their audio feed. The speaker will be using a directional, noise-canceling microphone to eliminate the sounds of the crowd. This lets the news outlets get a clear feed of only the speaker, with no other ambient noise.

And this is where our troubles began.

You see, according to a report by ABC news, witnesses say the crowd noise was so loud in the room, Dean himself was hardly audible to begin with. This wasn't a case of a man yelling alone on a stage--it was a case of a man yelling to be heard in the first place. But again, that's not what it looked like to the viewer.

And it was without that knowledge that the nation viewed this piece of film. It was without that knowledge that countless commentators made arbitrary, misinformed declarations of character. It was through ignorance that judgments were made.

Was this a deliberate attempt from the media to sabotage the Dean campaign? Hardly. What happened here was yet another example of irresponsibility in the media led by a seemingly endless want to improve their ratings. There's an old saying, "If it bleeds, it leads." Well apparently, "If you scream, you're a reporter's dream," as well.

When speaking to ABC news, President of CBS news Andrew Heyward admitted "Individually we may feel okay about our network, but the cumulative effect for viewers with 24-hour cable coverage is . . . it may have been overplayed and, in fact, a disservice to Dean and the viewers." CNN General Manager Princell Hair also commented "We've all been wrestling with this. If we had it to do over again, we'd probably pull ourselves back."

The enemy of truth is not the lie, but the misled passing of half-truths between honest men. There is no simple answer to the problems with today's media. What we have is a complicated condition of partially told stories, and lousy fact checking. The misrepresentation of Howard Dean is merely the latest case of questionable media coverage, and it will most likely not be the last.

Trae Dorn
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