by JS O’Brien
In case you missed it, the Daily Show’s John Stewart called out Fox’s Sean Hannity during his November 10 broadcast. It seems that Hannity’s show covered the anti-health care bill rally in Washington, and Hannity asserted that more than 20,000 people showed up (his guest, Michele Bachmann, asserted that the number could be as high as 45,000). Hannity then went on to show footage of the demonstration and, sure enough, it appeared that there were many thousands of people on hand. Or were there?
Stewart’s staff discovered something curious about Hannity’s footage. Though the recent demonstration took place on a crisp, sunny, fall day, (as demonstrated by the initial images in the segment) the footage of the crowd showed a cloudy sky and the dense, green foliage of summer. Stewart correctly pointed out that Hannity had used footage from Glen Beck’s 912 rally in September.
Last night, Sean Hannity acknowledged Stewart’s assertion and apologized for “an inadvertent mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.”
There’s just one problem. It was certainly a mistake, but it couldn’t have been inadvertent. I don’t know if Hannity, himself, made the decision to cut in scenes from the earlier demonstration in order to bolster the reported numbers at the anti-heath care rally, but someone did. You can’t make that kind of mistake “inadvertently.”
When a cameraperson is sent to shoot a rally, he or she captures that footage either on tape, flash memory or an external hard drive. It is then uploaded to a single file or group of files under a single heading. An editor then takes images from that file and matches them to voice-over copy or, in this case, simply uses scenes as background for Hannity’s and his guests’ conversation. On occasion, an editor will go to archival footage when she needs a particular shot it wasn’t practical for the cameraperson to get on the day in question. For instance, a story on troop deployment might use stock footage of an aircraft carrier or military aircraft taking off from a runway. In general, news organizations label this clearly so that viewers understand that these are not actual shots of the current deployment.
Hannity’s footage included shots from both November 10 and the September rally. This cannot happen by accident. An editor has to go find footage from two months ago and import it into the current footage on her non-linear editing (NLE) software, then drag and drop and cut and paste clips so that it looks like a seamless, one-day shot. Whether the editor did this on his/her own or whether a producer, or Hannity himself, made the decision to do this is unknown. But someone did.
This wasn’t an “oops” mistake. This was a serious-error-of-judgment mistake. This was the kind of mistake you get when someone caught in overt, criminal behavior says “mistakes were made.”
This was a downright lie.