Sunday, September 10, 2006

Zombie Stenography: AP edition

Greg Sargent flags this jaw-dropping piece by the AP's Stephanie Reitz. The thrust of the AP report is that Ned Lamont's criticism of Joe Lieberman's 1998 Senate-floor condemnation of Bill Clinton is hypocritical, since a newly-disclosed 1998 email shows that Lamont "lauded the senator at the time for his eloquence and moral authority".

The problem, as anyone who bothers to read Lamont's actual email to Lieberman can see, is that the point of Lamont's email wasn't to "laud" Lieberman for bashing Clinton, but to urge him to cut out the Clinton bashing! Don't take my word for it -- read the email itself.

The AP article by Reitz joins yesterday's shameful entry by Jennifer Medina in the NYT, which similarly misleads readers about the plain meaning of Lamont's email. Both Medina and Reitz obviously based their stories on quotes, spin and framing supplied by the Lieberman campaign, and don't appear to have spent much time reading or analyzing the email itself. In short, this seems to be a classic case of political-campaign stenography by NYT and AP reporters, in which independent analysis and a concern for playing it straight with readers play little or no role.

Incidentally, I would love to know if the Lieberman campaign sent out a press release about the Lamont email. If so, I would love to compare it to the text of the AP and NYT articles.

Here is a note I sent to Medina about her piece yesterday -- if I can get my hands on Reitz's email address, I'll send her a similar note.

Dear Ms. Medina,

I just read your article titled "Lieberman Points Out a Turnabout by Lamont", and then read the actual email by Ned Lamont that accompanies your article on the on-line version of the NYT. Your article creates an impression of the thrust of Mr. Lamont's original note to Mr. Lieberman that is completely contradicted by a reading of the actual email.

Is it your sense, on reflection, that a reading of your article is likely to convey a fair impression of Mr. Lamont's email to a reader who does not independently assess the email itself? I would respectfully suggest that the answer is, clearly not. Even if not by design, your article is the functional equivalent of a Lieberman campaign press release.

I am not accusing you of deliberate bias. Rather, I am respectfully requesting that you be more careful and diligent in analyzing the material that you write about in this election cycle. It is not enough to confirm the accuracy of a quotation brought to your attention by a rival political campaign -- you must also take care to independently assess the "frame" in which the quotation is presented to you. In this case, your article misleads readers by presenting an accurate quotation in a misleading frame -- that is, by misleading readers about the overall content of the email from which the quote was clipped.

I would appreciate the courtesy of a reply.


Eric [...]

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