The Phenomenon of "First News"
In 1948, the Chicago Daily Tribune actually ran a headline that read: “Dewey Defeats Truman.” That was the “first news” for the people of upstate Illinois. When the retraction issue was substituted, it must have been doubly difficult for Dewey’s supporters to accept their candidate’s defeat.
Now, let’s assume The New York Times could not kill the presses in time and it ran this headline on the morning of April 15, 1912, “Titanic, completes maiden voyage. Docks safely in New York harbor”
Back then, before the current era of 24/7 TV and radio news, that “first news” was all that could have entered the minds of millions of people. Later in the day, when the truth became known, can you imagine how difficult it would have been for people to discard that “first news” and accept the reality that the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank?
Because of the power of “first news,” it is very important for our news and entertainment media to strive very hard for historical accuracy.
For example, millions saw the musical “Evita,” either on stage or when it was made into a film. Many were moved by Evita’s song: “Don’t cry for me Argentina.” As a result of the musical and the movie, the first knowledge of millions of people around the world caused them to revere Eva Duarte Peron as a champion of the poor and downtrodden. While Eva was good at using government funds to shore up dictator Juan Peron’s political fortunes, her real life was far different from its pop culture presentation.
Eva Duarte was a 19-year-old hooker when she caught the fancy of Colonel Juan Peron. At the time, Colonel Peron was infamous for his preference for 13-year-old girls. Marrying a 19-year-old hooker was a step up for Peron.
During World War II, Colonel Peron was part of a NAZI scheme to extort money from Jews in exchange for promises to free their relatives from Hitler’s death camps. When defeat of the Third Reich appeared likely, the NAZIs shipped millions to Argentina for Peron to safeguard. Following the war, Eva Peron toured Europe, making a stop in Switzerland where it is believed she stashed millions extorted from Jews and stolen from the NAZIs who didn’t escape to Argentina.
The “Evita” fiction illustrates why it is important for the media and for Broadway and Hollywood to try their best to get the story straight the first time. And, to work from the best facts available.
The recent furor over the CBS four-part series on the life of Ronald and Nancy Reagan is a case in point. For many young Americans, that series would have been their “first news” about the Reagans. By their own admission, the production crew was out to trash the Reagans rather than provide a fair and balanced portrayal. One of the screenwriters confessed she made up some dialogue suggesting Ronald Reagan was anti-gay when, in fact, the Reagans included a number of known gays in their social circle.
By flat-out lying about the Reagans, the anti-Reagan production crews shot themselves in the foot. Finally, realizing it had an historical disaster on its hands, CBS cancelled its prime-time scheduling and moved the series to its pay-to-view cable channel.
With unconscionable cruelty, the production crew of the Reagan series was assembled to defame a man dying of Alzheimer’s and unable to defend himself. What would the Left have said if the series had been: “The Clintons” and it was written by Rush Limbaugh, produced by Dick Morris and directed by Gennifer Flowers or Juanita Broaddrick? They, like those who revere the Reagans, would be up in arms.
Granted, the public deserves warts and all reportage. But, when it comes to “first news,’ the portrayals need to be done with a concern for historical accuracy. The lives of our First Families are probably over-documented as it is. Inventing warts that never existed shouldn’t be necessary.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – novels about terrorist attacks on Colorado’s water supply and on the Panama Canal, respectively.
©2003. William Hamilton.