Jul
09
2008

NPR host responds to FAIR

The host of NPR’s Bryant Park Project, Mike Pesca, has responded to FAIR's media advisory "Press Distorts Clark's Comments" (7/2/08), which quoted Pesca (6/30/08) as likening Wesley Clark's statements about John McCain's Vietnam record to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to smear John Kerry's service record.

In a letter to FAIR, Pesca argued that he had been referring to "vociferous McCain critics," not Clark.

FAIR reported in the advisory:

Some outlets, including the Los Angeles Times (7/1/08) and NPR (6/30/08) compared the dust-up to the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a conservative group that peddled inaccurate stories about John Kerry's Vietnam record, asserting that he did not deserve the medals he had been awarded. The host of NPR’s Bryant Park Project Mike Pesca called Clark's comments "pretty much the same as John Kerry and the Swift Boating. "

In a letter to FAIR (see full text below), Pesca defended his statement, and challenged FAIR’s interpretation of it:

If you look at what the "it" was in the sentence I uttered, it's clear that what I was saying was that the "stuff on liberal blogs" questioning John McCain's war record was akin to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's questioning of Kerry.

Pesca added that "it's clear that grammatically I mean that the vociferous McCain critics (critics...not Clark) are swift boating him, just as Kerry was swiftboated."

In his June 30 broadcast, after giving his thoughts on "the Clark quote," Pesca had asked his guest, John Harris of Politico, "But what are your thoughts on it?" After Pesca's response, which mentioned both Clark and unnamed "liberal blogs," Pesca summarized Harris by saying, "So, it's pretty much the same as John Kerry and the Swift Boating." FAIR interpreted the "it" in Pesca’s question and summary to refer to the same thing--Clark's remark. If that was not Pesca's intent, we regret misconstruing him.

But the point Pesca says he was making is still a stretch. As FAIR pointed out in 2004 (and recalled in the recent advisory), a comparable “Swift Boating” of John McCain would be a multi-million-dollar TV ad campaign questioning his actual Vietnam record—-not a handful of Internet comments.

Below is Pesca's letter to FAIR:

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Hi, in your alert you said that I compared Clark's comments to Swiftboating. I did not. If you look at what the IT was in the sentence I uttered, it's clear that what I was saying was that the "stuff on liberal blogs" questioning John McCain's war record, was akin to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's questioning of Kerry. Look at the antecedent to the exchange:

HARRIS: the thing is, you can find much stronger stuff on liberal blogs. We had a story in Politico today about just a number of commentators saying, wait a minute, what is John McCain's war record, really?

PESCA: So, it's pretty much the same as John Kerry and the swift boating, except that it was a part of John Kerry's biography. It's a much bigger part of John McCain's biography.

HARRIS: That's right, and I think the lesson of both campaigns is the same, that if you think there are certain topics that are just off limits, verboten, in a presidential election, that's not true.

Its clear that grammatically I mean that the vociferous McCain critics (critics...not Clark) are swift boating him, just as Kerry was swiftboated. It is also pretty clear that this was my intention. Look at how I framed the Wes Clark quote:

PESCA: ...Now, I didn't see "Face the Nation," because all the Sunday shows are on, like, at the same time, so you've got to pick your battles.

HARRIS: TiVo, TiVo!

PESCA: Yeah, I know, and I listen to them on the iPod later. But I did see the Clark quote online, and I almost fell off my chair. I thought that was a beyond-the-pale attack, especially by a fellow member of the military. But then, I saw it in more context, it seemed a more understandable quote. He was answering a question. But what are your thoughts on it?

I am trying to give Clark the benefit of the doubt there. I should also add that in future shows I asked the staff to play the full quote, with the full exchange with Schieffer, for the very reason that I thought it was more fair to Wes Clark. Would you please print a correction on the bottom of your next alert and on the web site? I worked for a media criticism show (On the Media) for years, I believe in media accountability, that is one reason why on the BPP I was trying to be very fair, complete and contextual. I was pretty much trying to do the right thing, the thing that FAIR would like to see all journalists doing. If you guys rip the job I've done I think it hurts your credibility, and gives a negative message to members of the media about the value of actually getting it right.