October 17, 2004

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Getler Edition)

Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler says that reading the headline and first paragraphs of Post stories often give a false and Bush-friendly impression of what the story says:

washingtonpost.com: Is Balancing an Act?: ...immediately after the vice presidential debate between Cheney and Sen. John Edwards, The Post, on Oct. 6, produced a solid "For the Record" fact-checking story that was headlined "Misleading Assertions Cover Iraq War and Voting Records."... [T]he largest and most important part of this story was the job it did challenging Cheney's statement before a huge television audience that "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11." But the headline and first paragraph gave no powerful clue about that, or about the fact that when you read through the piece most of it is spent challenging statements by Cheney.

The next day, a fact-checking story carried the headline "Halliburton Charges Jumbled by Edwards and Denied by Cheney."... [T]he thrust of the article essentially backed up and explained most of Edwards's charges. Yet the one instance of a "jumbled" reference by Edwards to two contracts got the second paragraph of the story and the headline.

The following day, Oct. 8, as Bush and Kerry prepared for their second debate, The Post's front page featured a story headlined "Candidates Use Arms Report to Make Case." It was about a fiery exchange between the two over the just-released report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq. I thought this was a very well-done story with a proper and balanced, but bland, headline that may not have invited much readership. But some readers described the story as "disappointing".... The Post's own reporting a day earlier had described as contradicting the Bush administration's claims about weapons of mass destruction.

That same day, the New York Times published a lengthy "Political Memo" inside the paper by two of its leading reporters headlined "In New Attacks, Bush Pushes Limit on the Facts." The paper, I would guess, caught a lot of heat for that from Bush supporters. But the headline reflected what the story reported and backed it up, while also including administration views disputing the criticism....

Many readers make clear they appreciate The Post's fact-checking of debates, and of the claims in the nominees' advertising. But unless you are paying close attention, those nicely balanced headlines and lead paragraphs may not draw you into the story....

Put me down as one who does not appreciate those "nicely balanced headlines and lead paragraphs," an does not appreciate what I see as an applied rebuke to readers who appear to be at fault for not "paying close attention"...

Posted by DeLong at October 17, 2004 03:48 PM | TrackBack

Our newspapers are fair to both parties in this election. You should read the papers and believe what they write. Reporters and editors know what they are doing. Reputable newspapers don't lie. They tell you everything you need to know. To question them would be foolish and a waste of time. Why do you hate America's newspapers?

Subtle factors at work in newspapers, however, might change your point of view when it comes to nuanced points of view in the overall scheme of events and ideas pertaining to political and global reality checking. Consult your local oracle to determine which aspects of published news should be regarded as nuanced and which can be accepted without reference to the more abstract point of view mentioned above. If unsure, call a nearby university department of political science and ask to speak to any tenured faculty member. Such a person will be happy to speak with you and will clear up any confusion. Then return to your newspaper and peruse the articles as instructed above.

Posted by: Ralph at October 17, 2004 04:25 PM

I call the ombudsman regularly about the bias in the headline, i.e. the 'balance' referenced in Getler's article.

It is blatant. Many of the facts that are reported in the blogosphere come from the reporting in the major papers. The Post has some great reporters -- who are then presented to the public by the editors. The headlines are often atrociously 'balanced'.

I invite you all to join the effort -- email ombudsman@washpost.com

Posted by: Mike at October 17, 2004 05:37 PM

The post and its Bushbundsman are engaging in implausible deniability. You know it is a bunch of bull but they can use some stretched interpretation to say they didn't do it.

Don't accept delivery

Posted by: Eli Rabett at October 17, 2004 05:45 PM

goood idea :)

Posted by: penis enlargement at October 17, 2004 06:50 PM

Getler's an OK guy. The _New York Times_'s omb., Okrent, is despicable.

Posted by: liberal at October 17, 2004 07:24 PM

You have to know how to read Pravda.

Oh, and Getler doesn't exist. Okrent either. They're played by actors, and "their" columns were outsourced to a team of Indian journalism students in Bangalore in 2003.

Not that you'll learn that from their nicely balanced papers.

Posted by: insider at October 17, 2004 08:27 PM

Okrent is deplorable. He's got a great job though - scolding the readers.

Posted by: Zach at October 17, 2004 08:45 PM

I get the feeds of AP and Reuters side-by-side (well, top-and-bottom) on my homepage. They report mostly the same stories, but the AP headline usually gives the story a righty spin while Reuters spins to the left. Examples:

AP: U.S. Officials Differ on Iraqi Elections
R's: Top Bush Officials Clash Over Iraq Election

AP: U.S. Jets Pound Militant Positions in Iraq
R's: U.S. Tanks, Aircraft Bombard Sadr City -Residents

Worth checking out...

Posted by: ogmb at October 17, 2004 10:29 PM

ogmb wrote, "They report mostly the same stories, but the AP headline usually gives the story a righty spin while Reuters spins to the left."

In what sense is Reuters spinning "to the left"?

Posted by: liberal at October 18, 2004 02:48 AM