Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Newspaper meltdown 13: bias by omission

by Larry Geller

The Advertiser’s selection of questionable AP stories deprives Hawaii readers of complete views on important issues. They have a choice when they outsource an article, and I can only assume that they read widely enough so that they know what the issues are in their fullness.

The editors also make choices when they snip off negative parts of articles and improve headlines, as they did in today’s paper.

By the editors’ selective omission, those who only read their paper are mislead, and those who already know a little more are driven to look elsewhere for their news.

We’ll look at two stories that ran in today’s paper.

Take today’s front-page AP story (please). I think this is the same as the story the Advertiser ran.

The AP omits a key objection to the Administration bailout plan that the Advertiser could have brought us from other sources. The New York Times, for example.

September 23, 2008

A Bailout Above the Law

The passage is stunning.

“Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency,” the original draft of the proposed bill says.

And with those words, the Treasury secretary — whoever that may be in a few months — will be with vested with perhaps the most incredible powers ever bestowed on one person over the economic and financial life of the nation. It is the financial equivalent of the Patriot Act.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.’s $700 billion proposal to bail out Wall Street is both the biggest rescue and the most amazing power grab in the history of the American economy. [New York Times Dealbook, The Mother of All Power Grabs, 9/23/2008]

While Hawaii readers will be kept in the dark, this issue is a key part of Congress’ objection to the Administration plan. It was the first issue raised in the floor debate, according to this article:

DeFazio, the first speaker on the first day of floor debate, warned about a rush to act, citing another urgent vote in the fall of 2002.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, DeFazio said, is asking for "an immediate financial authorization for use of force. Does this remind anybody of anything? Like the rush into Iraq on election eve a number of years ago? It's all too familiar."

DeFazio noted that the bill before Congress is only three pages long and fails to answer the most basic questions about how $700 billion in federal dollars will be spent. Those question include how much oversight will be in place to ensure the response is proper and that it works. Those concerns are only expected to harden as debate commences.

"Secretary Paulson has submitted a simple proposal to the Congress. This is it," DeFazio said, waving the three-page bill.

"And it waives all laws. All laws! No oversight; no one looking over his shoulder, no conflict-of-interest rules. Not even court review," DeFazio said. "He insists this has to be done without meaningful discussion or debate or any change." [The Oregonian, DeFazio urges Congress to go slow on the financial bailout, 9/22/2008]

Readers who feel cheated of the full story can Google. There are also alternative media reports that beat any AP wire story, or a selection of overseas press viewpoints, all there for those who want to know more.

Recommended: Naomi Klein’s article and today’s Democracy Now! program, also available on the web at

But back to our slipping “paper of record.” 

A short-short article on page A9, by but not attributed to the AP, described Palin’s attempt to improve her foreign policy credentials.

You’ll recall that her image suffered after her foreign policy goof on ABC News, when she said that "you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska." That’s hardly the same as speaking with Vladmir Putin.

The AP headline on the web is “Palin meets her first world leaders in New York”, but the Advertiser headline was “Palin meets with world leaders.” True, but it is a spin nevertheless. The fact is that Palin has never met with world leaders before, which was clear in the AP headline but masked by the Advertiser.

The complete story includes some real news, which the Advertiser kept from its readers but which can be found easily elsewhere. Here’s one bit from the AP story that was omitted:

Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign has shielded Palin for weeks from spontaneous questions from voters and reporters, and went to striking lengths yesterday to maintain that distance as Palin made her diplomatic debut.

The Republican campaign, applying more restrictive rules on access than even President George W. Bush uses in the White House, banned reporters from the start of the meetings, so as not to risk a question being asked of Palin.

McCain aides relented after news organizations objected and CNN, which was supplying TV footage to a variety of networks, decided to pull its TV crew from Palin's meeting with Karzai.

AP stories often display clear bias. This article was revised by AP approximately two hours (according to Google News) after it’s original release.

The original wire story:

Palin sat down with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The private conversation and public pictures were meant to pad her resume for voters concerned about her lack of experience in world affairs.

The revised version, which ran in the Advertiser:

Palin sat down with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The private conversation and public pictures were meant to build her resume for voters concerned about her lack of experience in world affairs.

The edit is far from subtle. “Build her resume” is a positive action, but the original story had “pad her resume,” which has many negative connotations. So they changed it. One can argue that “pad” is an unwarranted assumption on the part of the reporter, though supported in the rest of the article.

The article notes at its end that “Palin, 44, has been to neighboring Canada and to Mexico, and made a brief trip to Kuwait and Germany to see Alaska National Guard troops.” True, but she “padded” her resume there also:

This from a piece by Bryan Bender in Saturday's Boston Globe:

Sarah Palin's visit to Iraq in 2007 consisted of a brief stop at a border crossing between Iraq and Kuwait, the vice presidential candidate's campaign said yesterday, in the second official revision of her only trip outside North America.

Following her selection last month as John McCain's running mate, aides said Palin had traveled to Ireland, Germany, Kuwait, and Iraq to meet with members of the Alaska National Guard. During that trip she was said to have visited a "military outpost" inside Iraq. The campaign has since repeated that Palin's foreign travel included an excursion into the Iraq battle zone.

But in response to queries about the details of her trip, campaign aides and National Guard officials in Alaska said by telephone yesterday that she did not venture beyond the Kuwait-Iraq border when she visited Khabari Alawazem Crossing, also known as "K-Crossing," on July 25, 2007.

Note that this is the second revision—the first was acknowledging that the Ireland leg of the trip was in fact just a fueling stop. [US News and World Report, Sarah Palin's "Iraq Trip"—All the Way up to the Border, 9/15/2008]

The Advertiser’s selection of only part of this story was a distortion of the actual event. Nor can it erase the fact that Palin has no foreign policy creds at all simply by spinning a headline or snipping off the negative parts of a story.

Check out version 1 or version 2 in their entirety.

We deserve the full story, don’t we? We can handle it, if only they would print it.



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