MediaWatch: July 1989

Vol. Three No. 7

Boos for UPI

How can an innocuous editor's re-write of an article change a story's spin -- and create a very different news report? Here's an example.

When Vice President Dan Quayle delivered the West Point commencement address on May 24, UPI reporter Michael O'Malley filed a story. His report included this sentence: "A slight wave of boos and hisses from the Corps of Cadets greeted Quayle when he was introduced at the 191st Commencement Ceremonies."

UPI's national desk changed the story to read that Quayle, "dogged during last year's campaign by suggestions that he was a draft dodger, was booed by West Point cadets...The boos and hisses arose from the corps of cadets, West Point's under-graduates, when the Vice President was introduced with a mention of his Vietnam-era service in the Indiana National Guard." The UPI angle gained credibility when CNN and CBS afternoon news briefs picked up the report of Quayle's humiliation and NBC Nightly News ran the story.

But the boos never actually occurred. In fact, O'Malley was the only reporter on the scene to report such a reaction. An outraged Lt. Gen. Dave Palmer, Superintendent of the Academy, wrote UPI President Paul Steinle. "From my vantage point overlooking not only the entire corps of cadets and the other 15,000 or so who attended the ceremony I heard no boos and no hisses," he charged, "to say that Vice President Quayle was 'booed and hissed' by the corps of cadets appears to be, purely and simply, an outright fabrication."

In response, Steinle apologized for the report, admitting that "clearly, UPI overstated the reaction." But Steinle ignored one of Palmer's suggestions: "A member of the United States Corps of Cadets who is found to have lied is subject to dismissal. No less stringent a standard should obtain among those who inform the American people than among those who are sworn to defend them." MediaWatch thanks retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham of High Frontier for alerting us to this item.