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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Friday, October 29, 2004

Advertorial in the Washington Post

At the time of the controversy over Peter Landesman's A Girl Next Door sex slave article, the mile-wide cultural rift between newsmen and features-men first emerged (into my ken, at any rate). Yankee stuffiness versus Left Coast laid-back-ness when it came to giving artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

Seems that there's a similar oil-and-water thing going on at the Post: according to a Washingtonian piece, a snippet appeared in Sunday Source section under the rubric Gatherings relating the goings-on at a GOP barbecue. In particular,
the possibly unprecedented occurrence of a young woman in a cowboy hat pretending to make out with a poster of Dick Cheney.

This alone would be enough, surely, to have the serious hacks on the Post pondering how the dwindling reserves of credibility were being squandered in the catchpenny scramble to provide snazzy copy to attract the younger reader.

It's worse: the paper's correction outlines the full horror:
The item should have explained that the woman was asked to pose with the vice president's picture by the photographer working for The Washington Post. The woman also did not pretend to "make out" with the picture; at the photographer's suggestion, she pretended to blow a kiss at it. The item should have explained that the party was hosted in response to a request from The Post, which discussed the decorations and recipes with the host and agreed to reimburse the cost of recipe ingredients.

Say what you like about old Dan Rather, at least he wasn't the one that faked the Killian memos!

The circulation folks at the Post would no doubt wax lyrical about breaking butterflies on the wheel; or (in keeping with the youthful demo sought) invite complainants to take a pill. A blatant conflict of interest, yes: but it's party food, not Iraqi WMD for heaven's sake!

But of course it's very much the same thing: just as going along with USG's Iraq fantasy was good business for the Post [1], so confections like the Cheney kiss barbecue are mutually advantageous all round.

Even (especially) for those of us who do not trust the media as far as we could throw them, and need reminders to maintain vigilance at all times - those reminders especially welcome when in in the form of easy-to-use anecdotes.

  1. From memory, the Susan Moeller report (oft discussed here) found the Post's record on Iraqi WMD not as bad as some (eg, the New York Times').

    But it was clearly in the Post's interests to avoid the war with the White House that would have followed from halfway decent reporting of the issue. (Besides, invading Iraq was Post ed board policy.)


I'm put in mind of a transient institution of the early days of commercial television in the UK: the admag.

One would have a programme that looked at first glance like a regular soap, with fictional characters, a semblance of plot, and fixed locale. But every so often, one of the characters would start to wax lyrical about some product or other, providing a demonstration, the camera focused on the product rather than the actors.

There were spot ads too: but the admags carried a personal endorsement (albeit by fictional creations!) that made them popular with advertisers.

Too popular: in 1962, the Pilkington Committee recommended that they be banned - which they duly were - on the ground (as I recall) that they blurred the boundary between editorial matter and advertising.

The most famous is Jim's Inn. featuring well-known actor Jimmy Hanley. (A little more on the subject.)

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