AP, WaPo Actually Do Some Journalism

A pair of mainstream articles are getting favorable mention from the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy for actually calling “bullshit” on Bush and the other speakers at the Republican Convention. From the AP: Bush leaves out complex facts in speech. And from the Washington Post (page A01, no less): GOP prism distorts some Kerry positions.

If you’re a hard-core Bush fan it’s easy for you to dismiss such stuff, since A) Rush and O’Reilly are constantly reinforcing your belief that the mainstream media is the domain of frothing-at-the-mouth liberals, and B) you don’t read newspapers anyway. But for the grown-ups in the audience, I think this is worth pointing out, and praising: Some in the media are still willing to do their job, providing context and calling the powerful on it when they try to peddle the rankest sort of swill as truth.

11 Responses to “AP, WaPo Actually Do Some Journalism”

  1. Craig Says:

    Quite shocking that a presidential nomination acceptance speech didn’t cover all the specifics of issues, or that it characterized statements or positions by the opponent in an overstated way.

    It’s called Politics, and like it or not, EVERYONE practices it!

    (Look at how, just recently, Kerry’s camp jumped on Bush’s statement about “winning” the war on terrorism. It was quite obvious to any thinking person what the meaning of Bush’s comment was regarding winning in the “traditional sense”, but Kerry used it to make it sound like Bush was resigned to defeat. Could Bush have stated it more clearly? Obviously, yes. But Kerry used it for potential advantage. The game is played both ways. Its not pretty or very honorable at times, but it’s Politics.)

    Even a half-hearted analysis of nomination speeches over time will show a regular pattern of declaring broad initiatives with no red meat attached to it and generalized attacks on the agenda, values or statements made by the opposing party and its candidate.

    It always will baffle me that Liberals don’t see any left leanings, let alone bias, by some of the more traditional influential media sources in the country, or the world!! (NYT, Wash Post, LA Times, BBC, SF Chronicle, ABC, CNN, CBS, etc.) Obviously, some of these sources are more blatant than others, but all are not shy in not only presenting stories critical of Bush and his actions (which is fair play), but also,in some cases, slanting or distorting facts, quotes or events to purposely play up the negative and even distort the truth. (A quick Google of this issue will bring up all the more well-known examples over the last few years. And its not because a conservative writer simply says so.)

    Yet, Liberals will scream that Fox News practically has their content written by the White House!

    Most reasonable people will agree that Fox has more Conservative leanings. Why is it so hard to not see the same type of liberal leanings in these other sources?

    I just don’t get it.

    My pet theory is that just because these sources don’t blare headlines like, “Bush Is A Liar”, “The War Is A Blatant Oil Grab”, “Bush Favors A Totalitarian Regime For His Second Term”, that it doesn’t count as being anti-Bush or liberal oriented.

    More likely, it’s something more subtle or psychological at work.

  2. Craig Says:

    Oh, and I left out a very anti-Bush slanted wire source, Rueters!

  3. John Callender Says:

    The problem I have with this analysis is that while every media source has its own perspective and its own propensity for a certain flavor of bias, there remains (at least in my personal philosophy) such a thing as objective reality, which different media sources do a measurably better or worse job of living up to. There’s honest bias (in the sense of misperception that happens despite the efforts of the observer to be objective and fair) and there’s dishonest bias (where the observer does not even try to be objective and fair, but simply says whatever he thinks he can get away with to advance his cause, regardless of whether or not it conflicts with what he knows to be the truth). And there are degrees of dishonest bias.

    The thing about Bush’s “we can’t win the war on terror” statement that bothered _me_ is not the aspect of it that the Kerry people were bitching about. Indeed, I pretty much agree with your argument there; the way they spun the statement was essentially dishonest. But as a whole, the Kerry people and the Democrats have been significantly less dishonest in this campaign than the Bush people and the Republicans. And media outlets that point that out are not just manifesting their own bias; they are accurately describing reality. Which is their job.

    Reuters is slanted against Bush in the sense that it is much more critical of him than many US media outlets. But the things it is criticizing are, in large part, actual failings on the part of Bush and his policies. That doesn’t make Reuters dishonest and biased. It makes them actual journalists — something their US counterparts would do a better job of emulating if they were living up to the best traditions of their profession.

    There are media sources that embody what I would call a dishonest bias in favor of the left; places like the Pacifica News radio outlets, for example. I don’t bother listening to them, for pretty much the same reason I don’t bother watching Fox News: I know before the program starts what they’re going to say, and I know it will bear relatively little relation to reality, except to the extent reality serves their pre-existing agenda.

    Most of the media outlets you listed as having a left-leaning bias don’t, in my mind, fall into that same category. They have institutional biases in favor of certain kinds of stories and certain ways of covering those stories, but to a greater or lesser extent they’re doing real journalism, seeking to honestly inform their audience. At least, they’re doing so much more than the propagandists for either the right or the left.

    There are degrees of honesty and dishonesty. And those degrees are significant. Yes, all politicians are dishonest. But some are more dishonest than others. The articles I linked to here reported on what turns out to have been an extremely dishonest Republican Convention, even in comparison with the degree of dishonesty at the Democratic Convention. That’s not media bias. It’s honest reporting.

  4. Craig Says:

    We’ll likely have to agree to disagree. If you want to call it simply an innocous institutional bias or play with degrees of dishonest reporting, that’s up to you.

    But there are the facts of a story, and then there is a reporter and editor (and a producer, for TV), and other eyes who then craft the final product through their own mindset and level of ethics. Sometimes integrity and ethics win out for the most part, and a story reads in accordance with the facts. But often the personal opinions and agendas of those involved in the process make their biases the primary filter for the tone and slant of the story. That’s why Reuters will take a sentence that could read “Kerry has a plan for Foreign Policy that differs from the current Administration’s practices, and instead say “…..from President Bush’s go-it-alone bullying.” (real quote).

    Anti-Bush people can read it and say, “What’s the problem. They’re just being truthful”, but the fact is the news organization is putting their own editorial biased opinion over the facts of a story to push a particular political belief.

    That, in fact, is just the kind of editorial riffing that Liberals get so bent about at Fox News!! It’s a two-way street people!

  5. enkidu Says:

    John – bravo – well put

    but seriously now Craig: how can u possibly look at all the distortions BOTH of these guys have been laying out at the conventions and not recognize that the Republican’s went way out of their way to distort many more statements than the Dems? Sure the Dems do it too, neither side is without bias. Given.

    Last week John had a hilarious bit on the jack boot nimrods for pusch vs moveon.org.

    “Anyway, because you’re all so rusty with this principled-and-hardworking-journalist thing, there’s a point I’d like to make: You can’t really compare the Swift Boat Veterans ads with those MoveOn.org ads. Can you guess why?

    It’s because the content of the Moveon.org ads is what we call “factual” and the Swift Boat Veterans ads are what we call “lies.” See the difference?”


  6. Craig Says:

    Let’s try to stay on the actual topic.

  7. Craig Says:

    Here is what looks like another example of what I’m taking about.

    The Associated Press makes it up

  8. Craig Says:

    Okay, I’ll never be confused with a computer guru…

    The link I tried to create was regarding an apparently blatantly false story run by the Associated Press stating that the crowd at a Bush rally booed when Bush announced Clinton’s impending surgery and that Bush said nothing to stop the reaction. Numerous sources have refuted that version of the events and a correction has now been made, with no apologies.

    The link I was trying to use was at Powerline.

  9. John Callender Says:

    I fixed the HTML in the original comment, so the link is there now.

    It’s an interesting story. I’m not sure I see it as damning the whole of the journalistic profession; it sounds to me more like an example of professional ethics at work. From this account (which I’d be inclined to treat with a grain of salt, considering its origins at Free Republic and its being summarized at another right-wing weblog), a reporter mischaracterized an event by including two sentences about the crowd booing and Bush not stopping them. This raises a couple of questions:

    1) did the crowd actually boo?

    2) if not, did the reporter honestly think they had? Or was he/she actually being intentionally dishonest?

    The Powerline piece says, “A number of people who were at the rally and didn’t hear any boos sent angry emails to the AP, which resulted in a rewrite of the story.” Now, given that this was a Bush campaign rally, we know that the crowd was composed of enthusiastic supporters who may even have been required to sign loyalty oaths as a condition for attending. Given that, the fact that a number of people were willing to dispute the AP reporter’s account isn’t surprising; it’s perfectly predictable, regardless of whether the booing happened or not.

    The Powerline piece also links to an audio clip which sounds like a snippet from a news broadcast. In that snippet, which covers about 10 seconds of the Bush speech, I don’t hear any booing. But that doesn’t prove that from where that reporter was standing, booing wasn’t audible. The audio recording, which appears to be from Bush’s microphone, picks up some nearby crowd noise, but it seems possible to me that it isn’t picking up the crowd in general. Microphones for events like these are specfiically designed to pick up the speaker and exclude background noise; we all remember the post-scream analysis of Howard Dean’s concession speech, yes? Where was the reporter standing? What is his/her account of the booing/non-booing (aside from the brief line in the story itself)? Are there other reporters who were present, and can confirm or dispute the account of booing?

    It’s also possible that booing happened, and was picked up by the mic, but that that booing took place before or after the snippet included in this news report. It’s also possible that the audio clip was processed to remove the sound of booing. I’d be more convinced if a mainstream media outlet had specifically investigated the booing alllegation, and did a story saying, “we analyzed tapes of the event and found no evidence of booing.” That media outlet could still be being dishonest, but it at least would eliminate the innocent explanations for the absence of booing that I mentioned above.

    But let’s set all that aside, and stipulate for the sake of discussion that there was, in fact, no booing, and that the reporter intentionally put that line in there as a piece of dishonest reporting intended to smear Bush. If we are to accept your assertion, Craig, that the AP is strongly biased against Bush, we’d expect that a misstatement like this wouldn’t be a rare and isolated occurrence. It would be routine. Bad reporting like this would be happening all the time. That’s how biased reporting outlets work, after all. That’s certainly how Rush Limbaugh’s reporting, or Fox News’s reporting, works: there are distortions, omissions, and outright falsehoods in practically every broadcast.

    In that case, we wouldn’t expect the parent organization to do anything to correct the story. The Freepers could yap about it; fine. Let them yap. The story would still be out there, doing its job of misleading people capable of being misled. That’s certainly how many overtly partisan media outlets, of both the left and the right, operate.

    But in fact, when the allegations were brought to their attention, the editors at the AP did just the opposite: The removed the suspect passage from the story. They corrected it.

    Hm. This is your evidence of rampant liberal bias in the media? To me, the evidence, even as compiled and presented by an enthusiastically right-wing weblog, seems much more in keeping with the opposite explanation: That the AP is, in fact, a professional media outlet that tries to adhere to an honest standard of journalistic objectivity. Presented with evidence suggesting that a reporter either mistakenly or intentionally misrepresented an action by Bush and the crowd, it immediately corrected the story in question.

    So what’s your complaint? That they didn’t issue a formal apology? For a single line in a single story? Less than 24 hours from when the original story appeared? I don’t think that’s realistic. The front-line editors who probably were the ones to make the decision to correct the story may not have the authority to take a step like that. If a formal apology were going to be issued, I’d expect it would come only after a more-detailed investigation by higher-ups in the organization. The reporter in question has rights, too, and to be publicly censured in such a way would almost certainly be harmful to his or her career. And frankly, I just don’t see that this incident qualifies for that kind of treatment. This isn’t some huge scandal, with invented sources and repeated abuses by a rogue reporter. It’s two brief sentences in a short write-up of a campaign speech.

    I’ve never believed, or argued, that professional journalists are omniscient, inerrant paragons of truth. They’re human beings. They make innocent mistakes. Some of them make the more serious mistake of letting their personal views lead them into dishonest behavior. I’m not so concerned about isolated incidents of that. I’m much more concerned about how the reporters’ parent institutions behave in those cases, since over time that organizational attitude will be reflected in either a greater or lesser incidence of mistaken and/or dishonest reporting by the institutions’ reporters.

    From what I’ve seen of this story, the AP behaved admirably. I think their reputation for journalistic integrity is very much intact.

  10. John Callender Says:

    Quick followup: Josh Marshall (for whom I have pretty much limitless respect) writes the following two items on this:



    So I’ll move the “they didn’t actually boo” position from stipulation to acknowledged fact. On whether the AP reporter was intentionally misleading or was just swayed by personal bias to mistakenly interpret a few moans and a possible scattered boo or two as a “crowd booing,” I think that’s still subject to discussion, but I won’t push that. Call it an intentional act, if you like.

  11. Craig Says:

    Thank you for fixing my computer ineptness!

    This AP incident just happen to break at the same time I was making my point about some mainstream media sources that demonstrate an anti-Bush, if not liberal leaning, in the way they present and editorialize facts and events. So no, obviously it wasn’t meant as my primary piece of evidence. Just one further example of the trend.

    I’m not so hung up about an apology. But its a pretty significant misreporting of events, and seems suspiciously calculated, by at least the reporter.

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