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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Sunday, May 23, 2004

Named sources are vastly to be preferred to unnamed sources...

Thus saith the Editor!

Or, at least, the infamous Washington Post guidelines on anonymous sourcing (amongst other things) discussed here many times before.

Of course, there is vast and vast. For some Podunk pen-pusher blowing the whistle on a lavish advertiser, think the Atlantic Ocean; for representatives of the Administration faithfully parroting the party line, more like the average sewage pipe.

Just how amply the lickspittles - charitably put: they lick far worse! - of the press deserve the contempt shown by the current Administration [1] is illustrated by today's piece on the front page of the Post [2] under the positive hed and limp dek
President Plans Drive To Rescue Iraq Policy
Speeches, U.N. Action Will Focus on Future

The author, Robin Wright [3], is the only journo credited. Another arcanum, I fancy: usually Post hacks work with partners (to judge by bylines), and pieces often have supporting cast end-credits.

For a work of stenography like Wright's piece, no assistance was evidently necessary. Or perhaps it was a case of the pigs getting up and slowly walking away.

Sourcing aside, the piece is stunningly positive to Bush. Just as pols use the media to do their oppo work for them (May 16), so a piece like this not only diffuses the message but coats it with a veneer of balance, and thus, credibility.

It mentions the situation in Iraq, Abu Ghraib and so on - how could it not? - but angles Bush as rallying his forces for the counter-attack.

The lede starts:
President Bush will launch an ambitious campaign tomorrow night to shift attention from recent setbacks that have eroded domestic and international support for U.S. policy in Iraq...

Ambitious might be faint praise or facetiousness, but, in context, isn't. And note the characterisation of the shambles in Iraq as recent setbacks. And England lost almost all its French possessions in the Hundred Years Tiff... [4]

There's also a gratifying reference to
a tightly orchestrated public relations effort

There is some more neutral language in the piece - references to shoring up the coalition and that Bush would try to counter growing criticism.

But the tone is redolent of a good many of the examples in Hallin's book (May 22) of New York Times coverage of the early Vietnam War: a challenge in the process of being met by USG.

There is even a
The general U.S. hope
where US refers to the Administration but is fuzzily (and misleadingly!) inclusive of the entire nation.

Any temptation to give Wright and her editors - who are, of course, primarily responsible for what goes in their paper - the benefit of the doubt is dispelled by the sourcing.

Think of the aroma of a camembert that you can drink with a straw.

The first anonymice are plural, unidentified by job description or agency, and without any explanation for their anonymity:
U.S. officials said
at the end of graf 2.

We then (graf 3) have an upbeat (or Dixie-whistling)
senior State Department official who would speak only on condition of anonymity.

That, in the Post's Circumlocution Office, constitutes the provision of useful information to the reader [5].

Richard Lugar (graf 6) goes on the record - actually, it's a quote from an AP piece, apparently - before those US officials get back in the act (graf 7).

Then, in graf 8,
a White House official who insisted on anonymity.

Reads to me like what the Fowlers (of The King's English fame) called elegant variation. The minds at the Post, far sharper than your humble blogger's, could no doubt make several vital distinctions.

The piece is rounded out by further contributions from the US officials - no idea whether they are the same team or not: perhaps they speak alternate words? - and one from the guy from State, who suggests that success is dependent on
help[ing] the Palestinians

That's why the guy from State gets the extra-detailed billing: because the White House operatives want to make it clear that they had nothing to do with such arabush-loving mush.

I don't object when the Post gets the phosphoric light treatment from USG. When the paper attempts the same operation on me, I do.

  1. Following a tradition - see yesterday's piece.

  2. I suspect, since the lede starts with the Prez's name, that it was the lead - or right-hand lead - which is the standard spot for American papers - British papers traditionally have a left-hand lead.

  3. I don't think Wright's identity is particularly germane to the case. But she has some previous: a Colin Powell interview of December 29 2003 in which she suddenly asks him whether Powell's flunkeys were making a transcript (it rang a bell, but apparently I got nothing down about it); Wright used to be the Global Affairs Correspondent for the LA Times, but then switched to the Post in October 2003.

    I can see no evidence of a Nedra Pickler/Jodi Wilgoren witch-hunt against Wright; but, then, I've haven't looked very hard...

  4. In graf 4, she refers to
    serious reversals over the past two months and to growing turmoil.
    Is that what the J-profs call balance?

  5. See the angels trip the light fantastic over
    We should write, for example, that a source "spoke only on the condition that he or she not be named," rather than saying that a source "asked not to be identified."

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