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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A certain type of article....

There are certain types of articles that routinely appear in the major papers where the very important context is left out. As examples, look at the puff piece as trade, where a paper publishes a timely flattering profile on a figure as payback for a leak or story that figure gave some time back. It's an open secret that this goes on in news rooms and cloak rooms, but do you ever hear it mentioned?

Then there's the policy advancement story, probably most blatantly typified by the way Cheney repeatedly used the NYTimes. Through coordinated leaking of cherry picked data, a paper can be manipulated into writing a story that can then be leveraged into policy advancement. This was also used heavily out of the Clinton White House by those who disagreed with the consensus, and it is also very frequently used by the military and its contractors to try and elevate weapons systems purchases. (Look how well or missile defense system works!! or the repeated manipulation of the terror threat stories.)

But today, I was caught by a third type of story which, with the context left off, reads very differently. Take a read of this WaPo piece villanizing former SEC chair Chris Cox and elevating the Obama replacement as god's own answer. This develops from an incoming department head manipulating a reporter for a narrative and then pointing them to disgruntled employees for the shocking bits. It's a pretty ugly bureaucratic maneuver to try to change the offices environment by scapegoating its former chair. It's very Soviet.

(PS. Not saying Chris Cox didn't do these things or do a bad job, he probably did. But to read this story without this "clean slate" meta context really misrepresents to the reader.)

Here's another example of sorts, also in today's WaPo. Al-Qaeda Seen as Shaken in Pakistan: U.S. Officials Cite Drones, Offensive. This sort of "progress" story traditionally only sources officials who have a stake in a storyline of progress. In this one, we have Petraeus, anonymous White House officials, and the CIA telling me that their plan is working with no independent sourcing to verify any claims of progress. They get a story to say it's working because they told a reporter it's working. (Bush also did this one a bunch.)

I don't know what I'm going on about. I'm just tired of it tonight.

Later: Or here's another one. Robert Gates is publicly complaining that the Air Force is lagging in sending drones to Afghanistan which he is doing either 1) to put public pressure on the process or 2) to publicly excuse himself from the drones not being there.

I mean, he is the Sec Def. What is he doing complaining publicly complaining about people under his command? What is that?


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