Road rage filmer writes about his media experience

Rick Adams shot a video of a man clinging to the hood of a car driven by an intoxicated maniac, and writes about what happened to him as a result of filming the incident.
[T]he frenzy around it was unsettling to me; as soon as it was published (including some really stupid factual errors) the story was around the world and it made me wonder: how accurate are the stories I know nothing about but read all the time? If something as small as this could have errors in it (some of which I won't go into as they really should be kept in the courtroom, as far as I'm concerned) because of a feeding frenzy does that bode well for our acceptance of everything else we read in the Oregonian or hear on the Today show? A small example: somewhere, somebody got the idea the video was taken with a cell phone and you can tell from the headlines that the media thought this was a cool concept. My cell phone doesn't even take stills, let alone video, but never mind: CELL PHONE CAPTURES ROAD RAGE INCIDENT, blared the trumpets. As a guitar player I know only too well that you can't take back a note once it's been played.

I also found the immediate media concern trolling a little hard to take. When I told one local TV station's door-to-door news crew I really didn't want to participate in the whole process because it seemed like they were trying to sensationalize the issue the reporter popped up with "But you might have some information that's vital! And if you didn't speak up the case might be harmed! Then how would you feel?" And I lost track of how many times I was asked to describe how I felt when I was filming the incident, always framed as a leading question telling me how I should have been feeling and cueing up the response they had in mind but which I never did give to anyone.

The most amusing things I saw were comments to the Oregonian's story online, which assured me that the entire event had been staged and that the photos were hoaxes. I really did try to figure out how you could stage something like this and get an arrest in less an hour but I just couldn't do it; I'm simply not creative enough.

Road rage filmer writes about his media experience


  1. Twice I have been involved in something that was reported in the local newspaper. Both times, I was disgusted by the massive disconnect between what was reported and what actually happened.

  2. “Everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge.”

    –Knoll, Erwin

  3. I was involved in a bus accident two years ago where a woman died. By “involved” I mean I was standing fifteen feet away from her as she was knocked under the wheels of the bus and crushed to death. I refused to talk to the press, told the police what happened, and spent the next week listening to all the rumors about what had happened be passed off as “truth” in the media. It really made me upset, and I feel for this guy.

  4. I have been a newspaper reporter, and I can tell you first-hand that getting facts wrong is the kind of thing that drives reporters nuts.

    I can’t speak to what happens with the TV folks, but every reporter I worked with got furious and upset with himself over even trivial errors.

    And I can also talk first-hand about the people who claimed to have been misquoted but weren’t — people I spoke with, in some cases people I recorded. It was a newsroom joke that “misquoted” simply means “Gosh, I wish I hadn’t said that.”

    Not that reporters don’t make mistakes, and plenty of them. But realize that you have one perspective on a story that’s pretty clear. A reporter has to talk to several (if not lots) and ends up with a host of different views that he has to try to reconcile into a coherent narrative. It ain’t always easy.

    And then, of course, there are the times when someone tells you something but is mistaken. He won’t get the blame, you will. They’ll say ‘It’s your job to check the facts’ as if it’s possible to verify every statement of every story.

    So yeah, it’s easy to pick on reporters, and they certainly screw up. But not nearly as often as you’d believe.

  5. There’s mistakes and then there’s intentional bias. Mass media is pretty adept at producing both.

  6. Mark, I think that it is great that posted the video – but did you pay Rick for use of his copyrighted video?

    That being one of the major points of his post:

    I thought since it’s copyrighted material they could only release it with my consent (and my contact info was written in VERY LARGE letters on the disk containing the file) but I was certainly wrong. Since everybody and his brother in the media was running this thing and making money from it…

  7. We also had this experience. Recently two different really terrible things happened to friends and a family member within a matter of days. One incident made national news and the other was covered regionally. We instinctively hid from the media. Friends that tried to get the truth out were intentionally misled to gain their trust and then the reporters only used bits that fit the bias of their reporting. The inaccuracies and lies convinced us there is very little we can trust from even well intentioned reports. The lessons we took from our experience were: never trust a reporter, and only believe half of what you see and nothing you have read. This is why I was so skeptical of the recent post Racist cop uses UK Terrorism Act to detain mixed-race family and take away their disabled child
    . The perpetrators of misinformation probably find it comforting, even amusing to watch the news, whereas we generally find it frightening. Misinforming the uninformed creates redundant layers of obfuscation, a three dimensional maze facts and lies, an insurance policy for the dominant class.

  8. In EVERY SINGLE case where I have had first hand knowledge of an incident in the news, including recently when I was interviewed for the local paper, I found at least three mistakes or inaccuracies.

    What’s scary is although I remind myself that based on that I know those stories are almost always wrong, I should consider that for every story I read, that thought vaporizes in no time, and I go right playing jump to conclusions. *sigh*

  9. I’ve always stuck by the adage to believe nothing you’ve heard and only half of what you see.

  10. Is this a Portland thing? When I lived there in the pre-cell phone days I was walking down West Burnside one early Sunday morning. A late 70s pink Cadillac came roaring out of a side street (next to Fred Meyer’s, for any PDX folk) driven by a woman. Attached to the hood was a man, screaming at her. They tore off up Burnside. Honest truth.

  11. The media is there to be used by you, not to “report the facts”. Firstly, they are incapable, secondly, they don’t care. If you are close to an event and refuse to to speak to them, they make up a story anyway. Best to go into it with a clear head; decide what you want to see in print etc. BEFORE they show up. Let them draw out the story with their “expert” interviewing. Lead them subtly by omission and careful misdirection. If there is ANY chance of danger to yourself by association with the story, give a false name. Forget about any profit unless you have exclusive video or something. Think of them as another tool to advance your agenda, albeit a blunt and dangerous one.

  12. I experienced a similar abrupt dawning of realization of the extent of the distortion and inaccuracy of most stories that make the national news.

    Having been in attendance at the speech John Kerry made at the University of Florida last year (the speech where the University Police Department, after allowing a particular student to grandstand and throw a tantrum for far too long, finally tasered the idiot), I was absolutely incredulous at the spin this event received in the media, even after full videos of the event began to appear on youtube, and accounts of the student’s prior attention-seeking escapades began to surface. I suppose I ought to have known better.

  13. When Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London, he occupied himself with writing a history of the world. He had finished the first volume and was at work on the second when there was a scuffle between some workmen beneath the window of his cell, and one of the men was killed. In spite of diligent enquiries, and in spite of the fact that he had actually seen the thing happen, Sir Walter was never able to discover what the quarrel was about; whereupon, so it is said — and if the story is not true it certainly ought to be — he burned what he had written and abandoned his project.
    — George Orwell

  14. #3 Andrew,

    I have been interviewed twice in the last 6 years, about two entirely different things. Both times with other people I knew also being interviewed at the same time. So I was able to witness the reporter interview each other person and use the exact same technique they had just tried on me.

    The reporters first asked you what happened, in your own words. Then they asked several leading questions in the form of “did you feel “abc” ?” or “would you say “xyz”?

    If you answered “yes” or “yes, I suppose so” or even “maybe..” it would appear :
    * “Abc”, says John Doe.
    * According to Jane Doe, “xyz”!

    Although it’s true the people had agreed (wholly or reluctantly) with the statement, it was a leading question that the reporter had cooked up previously (their own opinion, basically) and phrased as if it had come out of the peoples mouth, unhinted.

    I didn’t like it at all, it felt like the reporter had essentially written the piece, on the drive over to the location, and just needed to find x amount of people to agree with x amount of nice “quotes” s/he had previously written.

    News by numbers, if you will.

  15. @10
    My Grandfather instilled that healthy dose of skepticism in me at an early age. I’m glad to see that others have it, also.
    I’ve had the fortunate/unfortunate opportunity to be interviewed for newspaper articles and television news videos in former careers. It never ceased to amaze me as to how people who were supposed to be ‘professional journalists’ could consistently get the simplest of facts so blatantly wrong.

  16. I’ve been interviewed by newspaper reporters about a dozen times or so since 2001. Every single time they have messed up the details in substantial ways. The botched details are so fundamental to the story, and always fudged in the direction of sensationalism, that I have a hard time believing it is not intentional. The issue that troubled me the most was the misquotes — I would phrase my wording very carefully, but inevitably the wording was changed, though still attributed to me as a direct quote. Since these misquotes were often unflattering, now the only way I will do interviews is through email, and on the condition that the words they quote are the words I write. If newspaper reporters are that bad, I cannot imagine how much worse television reporting must be.

  17. Every subject that I’m an “expert” in that I see stories on is filled with errors. As well nearly every story that I’ve been interviewed for in the last fifteen years has been filled with errors, both misquotes and simple factual errors. In essentially every case where I’m qualified to judge the veracity of a story I’ve found serious shortcomings. I go with the assumption that almost everything that’s published is inaccurate to some extent.

  18. I will echo what others have said about having experience with reporters who have their their snazzy narrative all figured out before they even interview you. It really does make you wonder about the veracity of all news reports, let alone web posts on Digg (or even Boing Boing sometimes) where it is fairly obvious that only a very small and very sensationally spun part of the story is being repeated. But hey, it sells papers and gets you diggs. Screw the truth.

    This trend is also quite evident in our judicial system which is designed to have two very biased and spun versions of the case presented (complete with paid “expert” testimonies), with the truth supposedly lying somewhere in the middle. It’s not set up to discover the truth, just the median spin.

    (Reported by Diggers to be possibly inaccurate.)

  19. I was once interviewed for a controversial project that I was working on (noise from an amphitheater with a bad history of noise issues). I was totally paranoid that the reporter wouldn’t get the story right. I tried to be very careful with what I said, but afterwords I had several “I shouldn’t have said that that way” thoughts. To her credit the reporter wrote a very reasonable article. It turns out that she was an intern as well. Somehow I think that was a positive–she hadn’t learned all of the “short cuts” more seasoned reporters use.

    I’m sure there are many good reporters who fret over every fact. However, I think there are plenty of hacks that only think how a story will affect their career and/or circulation. Check the
    corrections section of your local paper and you’ll see some pretty bad fact checking.

  20. the worst part of the whole thing comes later; when so-called pundits get involved. there’s nothing quite like being near the center of a news story, witnessing years of history and clear facts get twisted into a single inaccurate column, and then watching some “expert” with free license to “interpret” the situation for his own purpose expound for an hour on national television after reading the first paragraph. seriously, if you’ve ever been in this situation you know cable news is a poison.

  21. Every time I or someone I know has been interviewed, the reporters managed to leave out something really important.

    One particularly bad one was an article about comic books as investment. They quoted, “Some people buy comics hoping they’ll go up in value,” but left out, “…but that’s a pretty bad idea because they almost never do. In fact, it’s a terrible, terrible idea, and here are the reasons why….” (etc. for 5 or 10 minutes)

    I heard the interview as it was taken and was pretty shocked at what they left out of the final article.

  22. I read on a blog about some guy who had something he saw put up in the media and then people posted on the blog about what they thought they’d just read about what someone posted about what someone else had posted about what the media posted. I’m definitely going to blog about this and encourage others to blog about my blog so we can put a lot of links in this story chain!

    Or something like that.

  23. At first, I felt that I didn’t have anything to contribute about this story, but then I remembered something that someone had said about the media; that it is not necessarily biased in a liberal or a conservative way, but it is almost always biased towards simplicity and sensationalism. I think those two attributes describe most of what you’ll find on the cable news shows, but I wouldn’t count radio or print out.

    The second thing (although I had thought to make it my third thing) I have to contribute is an incident that I had with my college paper. Unflattering (but realistic) picture of me aside, they managed to spell my name wrong, despite repeating it 4 times and watching the reporter scribble it correctly on his pad. Additionally, the event was a video conference with a certain tech personality who used to have a wonderful TV show on a wonderful channel, and so I was describing how I saw different pieces of legislation (DMCA, NET Act, etc) doing an end-run around fair use and that it was “…all about control” by the media companies over our personal technology. The reporter (or editor) saw fit to turn the quote into ‘[governmental] control’ in the print version. I went to the offices and stated that if I had meant to say governmental control, I would have. They issued a correction for my name.

    The fourth thing (are you keeping up?) was another wonderful interaction with the college paper. A Linux student group that I belonged to had arranged to have a speaker from EFF or FSF (I don’t remember, and he may have been both) give a talk about software freedoms, licenses, and open development. The reporter got one quote from a member of the LUG saying something like “I don’t agree with everything he said in all cases, but I appreciated being able to have him speak.” Then the reporter (if I can use the term loosely) got another quote from someone basically saying “I like getting software for free because I am a college student with limited funds”, which made it look like our student group had gotten organization funds to host a pro-piracy presentation. Awesome. No correction was issued, even after we (the LUG, faculty advisor, and other students) filed a formal open letter to the paper. The best part: the reporter sat in the front row.

    The third thing, is just a trope about reporting leading up to the Iraq war. Everyone has pretty much said it all already. Lies, lies, pundits, and lies. Bias towards sensationalism and simplicity. I would say that these stories don’t write themselves, but it seems that in a large number of cases, they do actually write themselves, with little or no input from reality.

    …And that’s really all I have to say about that.

  24. Perhaps it’s time for people to reevaluate their expectations of popular news media.

    Having done the radio thing in a previous life, I can attest to the conscious slanting of any given “report” towards my personal biases.

    Let it be noted that I am specifically not a journalist. I studied broadcasting for a couple of years, but have no formal journalism training.

    Nevertheless, I was frequenty tasked with the creation of news reports and various infotainment productions.

    The technicalities of “nonbiased reporting” are laid out of course, but when it comes down to it, it’s up to the low-level employee to assemble an entertaining and informative segment, with few criteria other than duration.

    Personally, I always made a conscious effort to abide by my intrinsic sense of ethics when choosing subject matter and reporting the details of a given story. That still leaves a great deal of leeway, and most people will naturally tend to emphasise points that support their personal worldview.

    Reporters and other media-producing folk are human. The final content is always biased, usually well-intentioned and sometimes inaccurate.

    The real trick is to keep this in mind when consuming news media.

    1. The Daily Show is a good news show because it doesn’t pretend to be accurate or unbiased, which frees you to draw your own conclusions from the facts. This whole “The Most Trusted Name in News” meme is toxic. Why would you trust some talking head on a TV show?

  25. The Daily Show is a comedy. I watch it to laugh and to have my prejudices confirmed – which also makes me smile. It is never news since all they tell me is what I already know.

  26. As a guitar player I know only too well that you can’t take back a note once it’s been played.

    …followed by

    As a Rainbow 6 player I know that all about stealth, guile, and strategy…so that gives me major street creed.

  27. A friend used to write for a small-town paper in Oregon. In one article about cell-phone tower installations near private homes (or something like that) he quoted a homeowner saying “… they’ll have to take out the stinkin’ stove to install the thing!”

    The furious interviewee called the paper insisting she’d said “sink and stove”. My friend says he wishes he’d fudged it intentionally instead of just mishearing it, since it managed to spice up the otherwise dry article.

  28. You guys seem to agree that reporters and journalism in general are ignorant, bad and out to distort the “facts”. But you might want to keep in mind, that what you perceive as “fact” is only your view of the event and it gets even more fudged with time. I have worked as a reporter for several years, and at almost every story peoples account of what happened differed widely. That is why I prefer to interview people alone – a group will be in a heated discussion about what “really” happened in no time. A classical example are fires – each and every time a house burned, people insisted that it took the firefighters at last half an hour to arrive at the scene – when it was in fact just two to three minutes (I live in a big city and yes, you can look up the response time because it gets electronically logged). Also with names: Many people are simply unable to spell their name correctly. Normally I ask them to write it down for me.

  29. Someone already made the “staged” joke, so I guess I can’t.

    I hate those stupid “staged” and “Photoshopped” morons. God I hate them so much.

  30. If there is ANY chance of danger to yourself by association with the story, give a false name.

    “Heywood Jablome” is always a good choice, particularly if the reporter is stupid enough to buy it.

  31. Newspapers and otherwise change things to make the story more interesting. Who’d have thunk?

    Back when I was in the music biz, I was misquoted on a LOT of things. Each and every time, I’d read back and it was instantly understood why they did it…makes it a little more interesting. Heck, I found an hour long interview I did with Time Mag from 10 years back where they condensed it to 3 lines and changed my title from whatever I use to claim I did, to Programmer At Major University…which actually happened a few weeks after the interview as I decided to go back to school and get out of lalaland. Turns out, they wanted to have a different perspective than a music insider and found that changing the title did just that.

    Any more, I just lie to reporters. Or online. Or to my friends. Everyone gets a different story. Life is soooo much more interesting if you edit reality. Why should reporters have the only fun…

  32. To Zeta,

    The best reply to your post is “Radioguy”, and “Arkizzle”. Journalists have a slant and do get things wrong, some of it intentional, some of it accidental. A journalists job is to get you to read the article, not to tell you what’s going on; if a journalist is really doing their job they get you mad enough to keep reading. It’s all about clicks and eyeballs to bring in that sweet sweet cash.

    I’ve been misquoted pretty poorly in the past, and it was done in the “Arkizzle” format above; ask a leading question, remove all the qualifying statements, there’s the money shot.

  33. the best false name is that unpleasant person from your school days. In any case, “news reporting” is just a job, accept that they too, need to eat. Just don’t trust them.

  34. People, please, stop wasting your time and effort. Once there are “traffic” cameras on every corner in every city in America, phase two of Operation Overseer can begin, and everything we do will be recorded for our personal safety and convenience. Just think, disputes such as this will become a thing of the past; will we even need such a thing as “journalism” at that time? I think not!

    You can help by supporting your municipality’s attempts to install these cameras instead of confusing the facts with your puny, worthless subjectivity.

  35. #39: For the most part, a journalists’ job is to get eyeballs for the ads. At least those embedded within a media organisation. I know there are lots of other types of journalists, but the majority of what we consume is picked to be more entertaining than it is factual. If the latter happens – a happy acident!

    NFPs are the best source, but again have their own priorities and interests, beyond just reporting event.

    I am incredibly cynical about 99.9% of what we know as “News”.

  36. When I see stories involving legal issues in the MSM and on alternative non-legal news sources or blogs, the errors are glaring. boingboing does it all the time–the poster has totally misunderstood some fundamental aspect of the case they’re reporting on and the end result is a wild misrepresentation of its meaning. boingers are quite a bit smarter and better informed than your average reporter, particularly your average small market TV anchor or local paper’s writer, so id imagine you get even more absurd errors from the MSM.

  37. Don’t newspapers etc. have fact checkers that, *after* the story is (mostly) written, call back sources and especially people quoted to make sure they got it right?

  38. #43, someone needs to start a flickr group: “Persons hanging onto the hoods of cars that are speeding off”.

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