About that "Romney-Ryan" chanting on MSNBC - Updated

(See updates below – Jazz)

There was yet another story this week making the rounds regarding a Romney-Ryan stop on the campaign trail, alleging some dirty tricks by the media in their coverage. But this one really serves more to highlight what happens when politicos wind up with too much time on their hands during the silly season. In it, we find charges of media skullduggery in their attempts to get Barack Obama elected to a second term. (Nothing new there, I’m sure.) But this one seems to have problems.

Here’s the clip in question, where MSNBC host Joe Scarborough reacts to a clip of Paul Ryan introducing Mitt Romney during the event in question, and Mitt responding to the chants of the crowd.

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After Ryan finishes the intro, Mitt grabs the mic and says, “Wow! That’s quite a guy, isn’t it? Paul Ryan! Isn’t that something?” At this point the crowd breaks out into a chant. This is where the “controversy” begins.

If you listen closely, it’s obvious the audio in the clip has been adjusted. However, that’s not uncommon — and that doesn‘t necessarily mean it’s MSNBC who did it. Sound technicians usually cut out the audience to ensure speakers aren’t drowned out (which you can do by simply turning the mics up and down — or you can do after the fact). However, where the controversy comes in is in the caption on the screen quoting the audience as chanting “Ryan!” Why is that controversial? Because people who attended the event say that’s not what happened, and that the MSNBC video grossly misrepresents what actually occurred.

Yes, the caption on the screen reads, “Ryan! Ryan!” And when Mitt jumps in to urge the crowd to say, “Romney Ryan” it comes off looking kind of awkward. But that’s the entire point that Scarborough seems to be reacting to… that it was a brief, forgettable moment which wound up coming off poorly on video and simply opened the door to another event “gaffe.”

But more to the point, it’s a bit of a leap to try to assume some sort of conspiracy on the part of MSNBC here, no matter what your normal inclinations are. I pulled the audio line of the clip out using Audacity and played it several times at high volume with some background noise dampening. (And without.) A lot of people were chanting “Ryan.” Why wouldn’t they? The guy is very popular and had not only just finished speaking, but was also complimented by the candidate. And without a doubt, some other people were chanting “Romney.”

But the way it played on video was… awkward. Was it a campaign ending – or even influencing – flub? No.. it’s a nothingburger. But was it a conspiracy by MSNBC? As the original article admits, it’s pretty much standard editing. How each person interprets it is up to them. But… a MSM conspiracy? Sorry… I’m just not seeing it. I believe Romney heard some of the people yelling “Romney!” and wanted to spread the credit around, but did so at a moment which left the reaction open to any interpretation partisans might like.

So what was this in the end? It’s us having way too much time on our hands while we wait for the first debate. You can find more than enough incidents of media bias all around the dial to keep things clicking along, but in this case, there simply wasn’t any “there there” on either side. Scarborough is one of the few conservatives given time on MSNBC (though you should also check out S.E. Cupp on “The Cycle” in the afternoon) and it’s kind of self defeating to tear down one of the reasonable voices on the network. If you really think Scarborough is trying to get Obama reelected, I honestly don’t know what to say to you. This was really a case of nothing to see here… move along.

UPDATE 9/30: Jazz

Given the, shall we say, “energetic” response to this piece which I’ve received through multiple channels, a fair portion of the weekend was spent digging further into this story. (A fact I am still gobsmacked by, given the completely trivial nature of the original clip.) Yet a few more interesting twists and turns to the tale have emerged.

First of all, as was previously reported, MSNBC picked up on the story via Politico. Here is their original video, still available on line, where they ran the fifteen seconds of film from the event with the headline, “Romney changes crowd’s chant to include his name.” Even if they backed off on the story later, this was the source MSNBC originally picked up. I’ve run that video against the one shown on Morning Joe, including the audio tracks, and they are identical. But there’s another twist to come.

In an effort to verify the story, I contacted MSNBC. In the process of preparing to air the clip, they sought out confirmation and located an article from the New York Times, which many readers referenced as proof that Politico’s line about what the crowd was chanting was incorrect. (Leading to the suggestion that Morning Joe must have cooked the books on it.) That article in its current form ends as follows:

The other is that the PowerPoint slides and wonky talk work powerfully well with many people who leave feeling that they have not been lectured to, but empowered.

“He speaks the truth, and he gives us facts,” Jackie Sullivan said after a rally in Orlando, Fla., last weekend that drew more than 2,000 people.

But avoiding missteps is now critical for the both of them, as they fight together to chip into Mr. Obama’s lead.

After Mr. Ryan whooped up the crowd in Vandalia on Tuesday, Mr. Romney moved to the front of the stage. As the crowd began chanting “Romney! Romney!” he cut them off.“Wait a second,” Mr. Romney said, instructing the audience to cheer for “Romney-Ryan! Romney-Ryan!” They did.

“There we go,” he said, pleased.

Michael Barbaro contributed reporting from New York.

But early in the news cycle, when MSNBC was checking into it, there was something else there. A correction was posted on the story, which has since disappeared. Here’s how the end of the article looked that morning, as captured by another site’s RSS feed.

The other is that the PowerPoint slides and wonky talk work powerfully well with many people who leave feeling that they have not been lectured to, but empowered.

“He speaks the truth, and he gives us facts,” Jackie Sullivan said after a rally in Orlando, Fla., last weekend that drew more than 2,000 people.

Michael Barbaro contributed reporting from New York.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 25, 2012

An earlier version of this article referred to the crowd at a rally in Vandalia, Ohio, chanting “Romney! Romney!” as Mr. Romney took the stage. Upon closer review of the audio, it was unclear if the crowd was chanting for Mr. Romney, his running mate, Paul Ryan, or for both men.

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So, when MSNBC went to check on the story, the Gray Lady had included a correction saying that the crowd reaction may have been the same as that reported in Politico. While the correction has since disappeared, I reached out to a source familiar with the processing of the story who confirmed that the retraction had been been there, but was no longer present.

The bottom line to this entire sad tale is that the original story – involving fifteen seconds of a crowd chanting at a campaign rally – has now morphed beyond what was at first nothing more than a potentially amusing moment on the campaign trail and become a meta-story in a pair of campaigns which frequently remain about nothing. But in this case, too many people who are ostensibly fighting for the conservative cause have chosen to concoct a conspiracy theory in which one of the conservative voices in the mainstream media is secretly trying to undermine the Romney campaign and facilitate President Obama’s reelection. And for suggesting that we might be jumping the gun on this, I received a near record number of responses suggesting that I’m all too willing to buy into this media narrative and lend a hand. Morning Joe took a fast moving story from a frequently cited source – Politico – and checked with the New York Times and ran it.

Was the story flawed? Almost certainly. Did it hold any great importance for voters considering their choices in November? No. But vilifying one of our own during the silly season near the end of the election isn’t helping anyone. Let’s close the book on this one, folks.

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