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Tim Giago: Mainstream media lacking in accuracy
Monday, November 27, 2006

Accuracy in the media has almost become a simile for inaccuracy. What is one editor’s version of accuracy can easily be another’s version of inaccuracy. It usually comes down to whose ox is about to be gored.

One would think that with all of its vast resources, a television show such as The Oprah Winfrey Show would be steeped in accuracy. I was on Oprah’s show in 1992 to talk about the use of Indians as mascots and I found her to be a very warm, understanding and compassionate person. So the inaccuracies I saw on her much publicized Oprah and Gayle’s Big Adventure I will attribute to her overzealous and badly informed producers.

With much fanfare Oprah and Gayle showed up on the Navajo Nation. Some Navajo reported that her advance entourage urged the Navajo leadership to stage a “pow wow” for Oprah and Gayle. Well, the Navajo people are not too keen on pow wows and holding them is not a part of their culture. But, as a part of the footage of Oprah’s visit, footage of a pow wow was also a part of her show. Never mind that the pow wow participants were attired in the clothing of the Plains Indians and were dancing the dance of the Plains.

In reconstructing the infamous Long Walk of the Navajo to their incarceration at Fort Sumner, Oprah’s narrator told of how many Navajo died on that long march. But, of course, the narrative would not be as effective without actual photos. The producers of the show dug up some pictures of Indians lying dead in a field. Unfortunately the photos were actually photos of the dead Lakota men, women and children at the Massacre at Wounded Knee. I suppose the producers figured that images of any dead Indian would suffice because after all, who would know the difference.

Many of us Lakota immediately knew the difference because those photos of the dead at Wounded Knee are burned into our minds. It is an event that we commemorate annually.

The History Channel can be infamous for its one-sided version of history. Let me give you two examples of how it applies one set of rules for all occasions. That set of rules is inevitably the one as seen through the eyes of the white producer.

A recent History Channel show covered how forensics was used to search out the true story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, or as the Lakota call it, The Battle of the Greasy Grass. You see, we even have a different name for the same battle.

In studying the bones of the soldiers recovered at the battlefield, the forensic experts talked about the horrific way in which the soldiers died. There was evidence of knife marks on the skulls leading to the conclusion that the soldiers were scalped. Knife marks in the pubic area suggested the soldiers had been castrated. And on and on. Well, this evidence of how they died is probably accurate, but it is unfair in one respect: What would a similar forensic investigation of the Indian bones of the victims at Wounded Knee or Sand Creek show? How did those Indian men, women and children die? I believe it would show that they also died in a terrible fashion, victims of vicious disfigurement whose body parts were taken as ghastly souvenirs by the rabid soldiers.

But even a kind of happy show about how American cuisine developed can overlook a portion of history as regards the Indian people. The History Channel did a very good show on the history of hotdogs, hamburgers and pizza. When it talked about pizza it talked about the importance of tomatoes in preparing a proper American pizza. They could have talked about the origin of tomatoes because, after all, tomatoes are a product of the American Indian, one that was unknown in Europe before it was discovered in early America. Perhaps if they do a show on the taco they will include the fact that the corn tortilla and jalapeno peppers were also indigenous to Native Americans.

So, as I said at the beginning, accuracy in the media is oftentimes calculated in degrees of perception. What is seen as accuracy by one race of people may not be seen in the same way by another race. For example, as an American of Indian heritage you might be alarmed to learn that your heroes are not necessarily my heroes.

In this day of mass communications I am often appalled at the use of inaccurate material in the media in general. Too often press releases are pulled off the Internet and inserted into the newspapers, broadcast on the radio or viewed on television simply because it is about Indians. I suggest the editor check the article for accuracy also. An Associated Press story of several years ago would lend credence to this observation.

The story goes that a boy from the Rosebud Reservation, a boy who was half Sioux and half Jew, was living in Israel where he was about to have his bar mitzvah and completing this plus additional training, he would return to South Dakota and become chief of all the Sioux. Can you believe this story appeared in newspapers all over America?

Of course it was untrue and a simple phone call by any editor to Rosebud would have debunked it, but no one bothered to do that. The story was funny and an eye-catcher and that was enough for AP to pick it up and run it nationally and probably internationally.

Accuracy is a word with many interpretations, but when it is boiled down to its most common denominator, it is a word that should be incorporated into all aspects of the media.

As Rob Armstrong, my retired friend from CBS Radio was fond of saying, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago’s weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or at najournalists@rushmore.com. Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM (harmon@clearlightbooks.com) published his latest book, “Children Left Behind."

More Tim Giago:
Tim Giago: Thanksgiving - A holiday of the imagination (11/22)
Tim Giago: State stifling growth on reservations (11/20)
Tim Giago: Taking stock of Election Day 2006 (11/13)
Tim Giago: Few roles for Indians in Hollywood (11/6)
Tim Giago: Freedom of the press has a chance (10/31)
Tim Giago: Important election day for South Dakota (10/24)
Tim Giago: White media ignores Indian contributions (10/17)
Tim Giago: Termination a dirty word in Indian Country (10/10)
Giago: Domestic violence from a male perspective (10/3)
Tim Giago: Culturecide started with innocent children (09/19)
Tim Giago: Indian people mark 500 years of terrorism (9/11)
Tim Giago: Lawsuit challenges church on abuse (9/6)
Tim Giago: Day of reckoning for Oglala Sioux Tribe (8/29)
Tim Giago: Tribes giving up their sovereignty (08/08)
Giago retires as editor and publisher of magazine (8/4)
Tim Giago: States looking for ways to take from tribes (8/1)
Tim Giago: Religion invaded Native America (7/25)
Tim Giago: Daily screw ups in tribal governance (7/18)
Tim Giago: Happy Birthday to Van Cliburn and me (7/11)
Tim Giago: South Dakota tilting further to the right (7/3)
Tim Giago: Americans still the invaders in Iraq (6/27)
Tim Giago: Tribal colleges in Bill Gates' backyard (6/21)
Tim Giago: Gaming brings new wealth, new problems (6/13)
Tim Giago: 'Oz' author called for genocide of the Lakota (6/6)
Tim Giago: Too much uncertainty in gaming (5/30)
Tim Giago: Deny gaming to newly recognized tribes (5/23)
Tim Giago: Congratulations to the class of '06 (5/16)
Tim Giago: Rich tribes should help poorer tribes (5/9)
Tim Giago: Fighting substance abuse at Pine Ridge (5/2)
Tim Giago: Censorship in the mainstream media (4/25)
Tim Giago: Brainwashing on Pine Ridge Reservation (4/18)
Tim Giago: The growing pains of tribal sovereignty (4/11)
Tim Giago: Indians most affected by immigration (4/4)
Tim Giago: Little attention for Native American Day (3/28)
Giago: Oglala Sioux president on state abortion law (3/21)
Tim Giago: The road to true tribal sovereignty (3/14)
Tim Giago: The basketball miracle of 1936 (3/7)
Giago: Real problem in South Dakota is race relations (2/21)
Tim Giago: Yes, Virginia, Indians do pay taxes (2/14)
Tim Giago: Gas-guzzlers, Indian cars and the Big Three (2/7)
Tim Giago: Lions, Tiger, Bears and Indian mascots (1/31)
Tim Giago: Christians and Muslims still at war (1/24)
Tim Giago: Bush started Iraqi war over 'dark lie' (1/17)
Tim Giago: Fire Thunder out of limbo after 66 days (1/10)
Tim Giago: The Olympics of Indian basketball (12/20)
Tim Giago: BIA schools turned abused into abusers (12/13)
Tim Giago: Fire Thunder shakes up establishment (12/6)
Tim Giago: Della Warrior steps down from IAIA (11/29)
Tim Giago: Deloria gave Indian people a voice (11/22)
Tim Giago: Indians never forced religion on others (11/15)
Tim Giago: Exposing false medicine men (11/8)
Tim Giago: Government ignores Indian health problems (11/1)
Tim Giago: Indian newspapers revise history (10/25)
Tim Giago: Two friends make journey to spirit world (10/18)
Tim Giago: Politicians need to know Indian law (10/11)
Tim Giago: Doors opening to Indians in South Dakota (10/4)
Tim Giago: 'Indian' myths and misconceptions (9/27)
Tim Giago: Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina (9/20)
Tim Giago: NCAA loses its spine on mascot policy (9/13)
Tim Giago: The Indian 'scandal sheet' phenomenon (08/30)
Tim Giago: Indians became refugees in own land (8/23)
Tim Giago: Censor tribes for supporting mascots (8/17)
Tim Giago: New addiction takes over in Indian Country (08/02)
Tim Giago: Tribes trade sovereignty for dollars (7/26)
Giago: Seminole Tribe wrong on Indian mascots (7/19)
Giago: Underground Railroad to escape boarding school (7/12)
Giago: Skeletons hidden in Rapid City's closet (07/07)
Tim Giago: Air Force base not a blessing to Lakotas (6/30)
Tim Giago: Tribes to claim downsized military bases (06/07)
Tim Giago: First revolutionary was a Native man (5/31)
Tim Giago: Many 'wannabe' tribes seek recognition (05/17)
Tim Giago: South Dakota press censors Indian writers (05/10)
Tim Giago: White lawyers growing fat off tribes (04/26)
Tim Giago: Gay marriage debate killed Democrats (4/19)
Tim Giago: It's time for wealthy tribes to think Indian (04/05)
Tim Giago: Wealthy tribes don't need federal funds (03/31)
Tim Giago: Gaming leads to addiction, crime (03/22)
Tim Giago: Discrimination in the media and advertising (03/08)
Tim Giago: Black Hills land theft a dishonest deal (03/01)
Tim Giago: Committing slow suicide with foods (02/15)
Tim Giago: Bush probably still against Indian gaming (01/25)
Tim Giago: Calvary re-enactors should know better (01/18)
Tim Giago: Racism continues in South Dakota (11/30)
Tim Giago: Should we listen to Osama bin Laden? (11/23)
Tim Giago: GOP moral values will hurt Indian Country (11/09)
Tim Giago: Indian reformists stamped out tribes (11/02)
Tim Giago: I'm not a racist and I haven't seen NMAI yet (09/29)
Tim Giago: Eastern tribes are African-American (09/15)
Tim Giago: Indians have cause to fear Republicans (07/21)
Tim Giago: Casinos create culture of 'us' and 'them' (06/30)
Tim Giago: Boarding schools cause of many ills (06/14)
Tim Giago: 'Real' Indians don't fight over money (04/05)
Tim Giago now plans to run for Senate as independent (03/31)
Tim Giago: Indians pay no taxes, and other myths (01/26)
Giago: Indian gaming erodes tribal sovereignty (01/07)
Giago: Gays were highly respected by Sioux Nation (09/22)
Tim Giago: I'm a fully recovered Catholic (09/11)
Giago: State should refund tax money first (08/06)
Giago: Oprah show changed minds on Indian mascots (07/31)

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