These days, it’s rare that I have the opportunity to attend a newsworthy event and then read about it afterward, contrasting my experience with the ‘reported’ facts. So I relished the opportunity to see how the Kerry speech was reported, both locally and nationally.
Locally, the most obvious was positioning in the printed paper. The Seattle P-I placed the story above the fold, with full-width headline. The Seattle Times placed the story below the fold, in the right column; they placed far more emphasis on a Microsoft campus being built in India. Web site placement and column inches continued that trend. I have to re-think my subscription to The Times.
If I failed to mention it yesterday, I found Kerry’s tone and words to be extremely measured. He didn’t (proverbially) froth at the mouth. His dispatchment of Administration shortcomings was, in my view, indirect. He mentioned the Bush Administration by name once; he mentioned the President by name once.
Yet even the NY Times accused him of “attacking” the president. Criticize? OK, although very indirect. Attack? We must be working from different dictionaries.
I was even more baffled when I read this bit in USA Today:
Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and George Allen of Virginia, in a conference call with reporters, said Kerry’s speech was long on attacks and short on ideas. Allen accused Kerry of being “more interested in politically attacking” Bush than in winning the war on terrorism. He said “hate-filled anti-Bush rhetoric” from Kerry and other Democrats has “no place in the public discourse.”
Neither of these men heard the speech. Did they read it? Who arranged the “conference call for reporters” and who was on the call? What reporters listened? And where’s the “hate” in this speech — hate requires passion and visible passion is a trait in short supply in the Kerry camp.
I’m not alone, by the way. The Seattle P-I reporter actually interviewed people who heard the speech (what a shocking concept!). This is from a Thurston County high school senior:
“A lot of people have said all John Kerry does is bash Bush, but I don’t think he did that today,” [Isaac] Silverman said. “He had to talk tough about defense — he has to define himself that way — as a centrist Democrat.”
He said/She said
The USA Today reporter appears to have gone for the standard “get a comment from the other side,” something that I call “he said/she said” journalism.
In my view, this practice gives lip service to the idea of “objectivity” — relieving the reporter of any responsibility for providing the reader with either context or meaningful information. In this instance, it provided the Republican Party with the opportunity to “spin” and spin they did.
The speech (read it yourself or watch it – registration required) was long on ideas and short on details, but there were specifics that the Republican “responders” might have addressed. Instead, they resorted to election-year sound-bites, which were then swallowed whole (and regurgitated) by the USA Today reporter and others.
And newspapers wonder why circulation is declining? Politicians wonder why voters are disenchanted? This type of spin is worthy of treatment by The Daily Show.
Technorati reported last week that the four top news sources linked by its bloggers were The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and the BBC. So I checked each one, and they accurately reflected the event that I attended, with the exception of the insistence that this was an “attack.”
OK. Maybe “attack” is contextual. If this is the hardest-hitting speech to-date, perhaps headline writers can be excused for labeling it an attack. Perhaps.
The BCC (as well as KING-TV, below) featured one of my favorite phrases: “weapons of mass murder.” Their “other” source was a Bush campaign spokesman, whose (reported) rhetoric was tame compared to the Republican congressmen quoted by USA Today and other American press.
On the other hand, CNN reported the “hate” spin, and this time it came from Bush Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman.
With the most positive headline of the bunch, the Washington Post exhibited both the most straightforward reporting as well as some of the best context.
Finally, the NY Times was, well, the NYT. Thorough. Contextual. Little Republican spin.
As usual, I found reports in foreign press to have more substance than much of the domestic press (above citations excepted).
Notable dispatches appeared in ABC.net.au (provides context of other news stories this week); The Financial Times (contains the obligatory Republican attack, above); and International Herald Tribune (keep clicking in the lower right hand corner of the story to move forward).
Reuters remains my wire service of choice for news. However, AP had a nice analysis yesterday in the Army Times. The wire story on the Seattle speech, on the other hand, put words in the mouth of the candidate. And there was a surprisingly nice analysis at MSNBC.
Unfortunately, most Americans get their news from mainstream TV — not CNN, newspapers, magazines or the Web. And it’s unlikely that many TV stations devoted almost four (3:45) minutes to the speech like Seattle’s KING-TV.
FOX, not surprisingly, has used this opportunity to run footage of Kerry’s “incendiary” anti-war activities after he returned from Vietnam, along with quotes from anti-Kerry vets. Surprise, surprise, there was more time devoted to 1971 than 2004 in its reporting today (I can’t find an archive of yesterday’s coverage and linking directly to a video seems impossible).