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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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Post acting guilty over 'fake' GOP Schiavo memo

The right of the 'sphere is claiming Rathergate II for the wretched paper (March 21) [1].

The CJR guys highlight Howard Kurtz's strange explication of the Post's effort. It's thin and fishy:
ABC and The Post say their reports on the Schiavo memo were accurate and carefully worded.

With a view to mislead?

Kurtz says
Neither report said Republicans had written the memo, although they may have left that impression

You don't say.

And scribe Mike Allen is quoted thus (emphasis mine):
We simply reported that the sheet of paper was distributed to Republican senators and told our readers explicitly that the document was unsigned, making clear it was unofficial. We stuck to what we knew to be true and did not call them talking points or a Republican memo. The document was provided by an official who has a long record of trustworthiness, and this official gave a precise account of the document's provenance, satisfying us that it was authentic and that it had been used in an attempt to influence Republican senators." Allen said that under the journalistic ground rules, he could not say whether the source was a Democrat or a Republican.

Reference to the text of his piece shows that Allen emphatically did not mak[e] clear it was unofficial: he left the reader to draw that inference from the statement that the memo was unsigned!

Now, I take a certain interest in matters Congressional; but I have no idea what the practice is with circulating a memo like this. Why, for instance, would it need to be signed if it were being distributed by hand by an individual known to all 55 GOP senators?

The piece says the memo is unsigned but not, for instance, that it does not bear some other identification suggesting authenticity to its intended recipients.

Yet, somehow, the Post reader is meant to know that unsigned implies provenance not guaranteed.

The Big Lie of journalism is that what appears to be plain English is in fact code. But unlike the code you read in the JAMA or the Harvard Law Review, a layman reading a newspaper may easily persuade himself that that he is reading plain English.

The query-Republican query-memo is a classic example of this.

Note, by the way, that, in his quote, Allen is doing what he did not (according to the code he was writing in) do in his own piece: vouching for the authenticity of the memo.

But, if Allen thought the memo was genuine, and not merely a piece of paper to be described in non-committal terms, why was he non-committal in his own article? (At least to those capable of reading his code.)

Some time back, there was a hoo-ha about print journalists going on TV and providing a goosed-up version of stories they'd written which would never have got past their editors. Allen seems to have found another way of doing the same thing.

(Because, no doubt, if the memo is proved to be a fake, the Post honchos will say the paper is not bound by what Allen told Kurtz because Kurtz is a media article, not a politics article.)

Media bias is not liberal or conservative, it's artefactual. The editor can't help it...

  1. URL dump: here, here, here, here, here and here.

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