Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Almost Live Television, all smoke and mirrors?

What’s Wrong With this Picture?

Some events are more ironic than others.

I was invited to attend the taping of a segment of KNME’s “In Focus” program, to be aired April 22, 2011.

They needed bodies to help fill out a studio audience. The actual audience was made up of students from UNM Journalism Professor Ilia Rodriguez’ Media History class.

The segment was a conversation via satellite from San Francisco, with Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, of his release in 1971 of a classified history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers, the release on PBS of a movie, “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” and the relevance of events of the day with WikiLeaks, and its founder Julian Assange.

The New York Times published three segments starting Sunday, June 13, 1971, before Richard Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell’s Justice Department filed for and was granted an injunction keeping the Times from continuing publishing. At the same time the Washington Post began publishing details of the papers. The Post was asked to voluntary refrain from continuing publishing. The Post refused and Justice sought an injunction in Federal District Court, which refused to order the paper to stop. Two days later, the Boston Globe began publishing aspects of the leaked documents.

Fifteen other papers printed stories about the Pentagon Papers.

The U.S. Supreme Court took up the two injunctions on direct appeal under the caption, New York Times Co. v. United States.

The court, with each justice writing separate opinions, ruled 6-3 that the government had not satisfied the high burden necessary in proving the compelling national security interest, outweighing the public’s right to know what their country was doing in their name, before allowing the government to exercise prior restraint against publishing the Pentagon Papers.

The revelation of the papers’ content, though marked Top Secret “Sensitive”, never threatened national security, but proved embarrassing to the former administrations of Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, who had lied to the American public and Congress.

Ellsberg, admitted he had leaked the Pentagon Papers, turning himself in to federal authorities in Boston. A federal grand jury in Los Angeles, indicted Ellsberg for a violation of the espionage act of 1917.

Daniel Ellsberg was viewed as the critic of the Vietnam War. Nixon, Mitchell, and US National Security Advisor Henry Kissenger were recorded on Nixon’s secret tapes plotting to “get Ellsberg.”

“The most dangerous man in America,” Kissinger called Ellsberg, In an effort to “get” Ellsberg the “White House Plumbers,” were formed and their first assignment was to break into the office of Dr. Lewis J. Fielding, Ellsberg’s Los Angeles based, psychiatrist, looking for incriminating evidence to help stop leaks of classified documents to news media.

The Plumbers reported to their White House superiors, that their mission was a failure; Dr. Fielding said Ellsberg’s rifled records were on the floor of his office.
(Personal conjecture – the plumbers succeeded in photographing the records and left the file as a message that they had been there.)
The Plumbers would be later used to break into the office of the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Lawrence O'Brien, at Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate complex a couple of times. On their second sortie they were caught by plain clothed Washington Metropolitan Police officers.

During the Watergate investigation information about the Plumbers burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office was made public. The federal district judge in California dismissed the case against Ellsberg for the governmental misconduct.

So, What’s Wrong With this Picture?

Stand By We are experiencing technical difficulties.

The KNME studio was set up so host Gene Grant could look at a large monitor in front of him with Ellsberg shown via satellite.

Ellsberg could be seen and heard in Albuquerque, but he could not hear Grant.

Grant using a mobile phone, to talk to Ellsberg, overcame this technical difficulty. However that was not going to work because Ellsberg couldn’t be seen on camera, talking or listening to a phone.

Solution, Grant talked to the studio floor manager in San Francisco who repeated the question Ellsberg would then answer.

KNME videotaped a specific student question from Aubrey Hovey of how Ellsberg felt about the demise of newspaper print journalism, and a consensus class question asked by Professor Rodriguez, of how to deal with the tension of how to protect national security interests with the public’s right to know?  The questions were passed on to Ellsberg in the same telephoning way.

The rented satellite time expired and Ellsberg disappeared from the screen.

Grant thanked Ellsberg by phone and signed off.

Producer Kevin McDonald, entered the studio from the control booth, announcing to the students from the ethics class that the session would air:

Friday night seven o’clock, “New Mexico in Focus” you’ll see this, we’ll make it look like all that technical stuff never happened; that was really cool that you came up and asked those questions.

The studio audience left and Grant remained to ask his question into the camera without the cellular phone.

Then in the editing process the jigsaw puzzle of video parts were arranged in an appropriate sequence.

The process was more like movie making, one shot at a time, even though there were three cameras acquiring video that could be selected by the director.

McDonald was correct, watching the end result, you couldn’t tell that there had been any technical issues or that it hadn’t been live or the some of Ellsberg’s longwinded comments had been edited down.

The irony I mentioned came in several forms: the piercing of the veil of television magic through accepted editing techniques, and that on the fortieth anniversary of Ellsberg’s leaking the Pentagon Papers, the National Archives released the entire declassified non-redacted documents, including one chapter that Ellsberg seemed to have missed.

Their release reinforced the earlier findings that they never contained any national security secrets, only repeated proof of presidents lying to the people and Congress of the United States.

Ellsberg is still a name that raises passions, some call him a hero, others call him a traitor, even though he had served as a Marine officer, a top level analysts, and could not allow his country to be continually lied to. He was willing to serve the rest of his life in prison to let his fellow citizens know a hidden truth.

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