The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, March 18, 2004

No closure yet for Kerry foreign leaders farrago

As I mentioned earlier today, the guys from Campaign Desk have been on the case. They've heard from the horse's mouth. But I'm still not happy we've got to the bottom of the story.

My sense is that the root of the problem is that no one at the time thought it was a big story.

Here we have the presumptive Democratic candidate for President of the United States reported as talking complete bollocks in public before an audience (of fifty, apparently) with media present. And, according to the collective wisdom of the American media, the immediate impression was: no big deal.

Corroboration comes in the paucity of coverage the remarks got on the same and the following day [1].

For example, searching the Poor Man's Nexis just now for kerry "foreign leaders" source:reuters, 37 items are returned: six from March 8, all of which are substantially dupes of the first, timed at 1057 ET. The I've met foreign leaders quote is included [2]. But there are no more items after March 8 until March 14 pieces pick up the Powell talk show jibes at Kerry. (A similar search substituting AP for Reuters shows the same pattern.)

And The Note on March 9 cites two articles for the foreign leaders quote: from the NY Post (my March 16 piece) and Boston Herald. And no comment in the 'editorial' stuff at the top of the page.

The Campaign Desk piece notes that the RNC picked up the quote as a gaffe later on in the day on March 8 - the RNC piece has a 'lede' (on North Korea's 'support' for Kerry - quoting a piece from June 12 2003!) rather than going with the quote of the day.

Not even the crooked, lying Bush attack team thought the quote was important! And I can't believe that, if they had followed it up between the 8th and the 14th that there would not be a paper trail to show for it.

I don't get it.

The CD piece details the MO at the meeting: quite what use it was to have a TV pooler - Fox's Catherine Loper - at the meeting when she didn't even make an audio recording of the thing is not clear to me. And - with the entire US media relying on him, wouldn't Healy have been sensible to have a couple of back-ups? Dictating machines or whatever.

I can understand how hassled journos with deadlines might have missed the significance of the quote. But am I to believe that not a single editor didn't throw the pool copy back and ask for it to be checked out?

What about the WaPo? According to its search page (going back to March 5), the earliest piece (March 9 1020 ET) was a press roundup by Dan Froomkin, which has a section on the quote.

Then nothing - a Howard Kurtz piece of March 12 mentions foreign leaders (but not in the quote in question). It creeps in at the end of a Krauthammer frog-bashing piece, also March 12.

But then, nothing until March 15 pieces pick up the Powell assault.

I still don't get it.

I did query why Healy should have made a song and dance of his correction when his first version got the sense of Kerry's statement exactly right. On a human level, one certainly has to applaud his honesty.

My point - I think - was that his faulty transcription is not the important issue here. And, with this sort of story, it's all too easy to get bogged down in detail and lose sight of the big picture.

Which is that an utterly gobsmacking story was allowed by the massed ranks of US editors onto their newspapers and broadcasts without any of them thinking it needed checking.

Just like the Medicare videos - of which more shortly - the failure is one of editorial control.

I hope that, with Healy's George Washington, the story will not die until that point has been rammed home.

Druther of the Day...

  1. Doing this sort of exercise without Nexis is impossible. Bear with me.

  2. There is a side-issue: the Reuters piece says that Kerry was speaking at Fort Lauderdale. The Note for March 8, in its list of daily activities at the top of the page has Kerry down to speak at Hollywood, FL at 0915. Teresa Heinz is down as to speak at Fort Lauderdale at 1030. For out-of-towners, the two towns are about 10 miles apart.

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