April 17, 2007

VA Tech Massacre Coverage

"Deadly Rampage and No Loss for Words" in the NY Times today (4/17/07) is about how the TV networks have handled the Virginia Tech shooting story thus far. The reporter starts the article thusly:

Television anchors said over and over that the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech was the deadliest in American history, but that was not the only shocking aspect of yesterday’s continual coverage.

The amazing thing is how familiar campus shootings have become.

I think the lead was buried in the last paragraph:

It was the worst shooting ever, but it was also yet another tragedy in which television turned first to amateur reporters on the scene. “Stay out of harm’s way,? the CNN anchor Don Lemon said, addressing students at Virginia Tech. “But send us your pictures and video.?

Editor & Publisher may not be a mainstream outlet, but it covers the media in the tradional reportorial way. The article about the print news coverage of the massacre is very interesting and similarly analyses this style of news gathering by various outlets. The first two paragraphs in "Local and National Papers Cover Massacre -- Often Blog-Style" are:

NEW YORK The massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech this morning came so suddenly, along with a constantly updated death count, that many newspapers both local and national responded by basing much of their breaking coverage on brief blog-like entries.

The New York Times, for example, carried a top story on its site by the Associated Press, then by staff reporters, that changed slowly -- while it directed readers to its The Lede blog which had frequent entries.

Both these articles point to increasing use of blog-style entries to post up-to-the-minute reports.

Assistant Managing Editor Michael Stowe at the Roanoke paper said the blog approach is the best way to move breaking news quickly. "We have found this works well," he said. "It won't stop as long as there is stuff coming in. Everyone is working."

The trend can be seen online frequently while doing these assignments, as articles posted on a unique web address are updated from day to day - often keeping the same headline - instead of giving them unique addresses. I'm thinking that either the lines between tradional articles and blog postings will blur or outlets will be more careful about where their articles are placed on their sites so that readers are not confused about what is news reporting and what is editorializing, similar to print media.

April 2, 2007

EPA Can Regulate CO2

Two articles in the New York Times - one by a Times reporter and one from the AP - explain the decision by the Supreme Court that the EPA "has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide from automobile emissions, and that it has shirked its duty in not doing so."

The AP report is concise and explains just enough for the reader to understand the decision, and offers some views from the dissenting justices about why they didn't agree. The reporter gives a little background of the issue, then on paragraph 10 provides a list of the questions the court was asked in the suit and what they decided. The article ends by analyzing what the decision means:

The decision is also expected to boost California's prospects for gaining EPA approval of its own program to limit tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. Federal law considers the state a laboratory on environmental issues and gives California the right to seek approval of standards that are stricter than national norms.

The Times article, on the other hand, is much more in-depth, providing all the above and then some, and also explains the reason the case was before the Supreme Court at all:

Secondly, the five justices declared that contrary to the administration, Massechussets and the 11 other states and various other plaintiffs that sued the EPA do indeed have legal standing to pursue their suit. In order to establish standing, a federal court plaintiff must show that there is an injury that can be traced to the defendant's behavior, and that the injury will be relieved by the action the lawsuit seeks.

Must be nice to be the New York Times, plenty of space to tell your stories. Once again, however, the link to the times article leads to a different article which, while having the same headline, isn't even written by the same reporter. So here's a cartoon.


March 26, 2007

Pentagon Budget Explained

"Consumer Confidence Index Falls More Than Predicted" is an article that uses figures that don't mean much to describe a common economic measurement.

The Conference Board said that its consumer confidence index fell to 107.2, from the revised 111.2 in February. Analysts had expected a reading of 109. The March index was the lowest since November 2006, when the reading was 105.3.


An index that measures how shoppers feel about economic conditions increased slightly to 137.6, from 137.1 in February, while an index that measures consumers’ outlook in the next six months declined to 86.9, from 93.8.

Huh? This story and so many others like it does nothing to advance my understanding of what is a normal CCI or what a good or bad one would look like. The story is located in the business section of the Times, so the reporter must be assuming anyone reading that section is in the know.

At the other end of the explanation spectrum, an NPR reporter gave a clear and illustrative report about the pentagon budget, just in time for me because I had been wondering how this recent supplemental budget bill for war spending could be so desperately and immediately needed, I mean, don't they budget out at least a year in advance? I did my best on the transcript below. It is not verbatim and the story deserves a listen.

Say our defense department was an indepentent country, then it would be the 11th richest country in the world . . . One of the ironies is that even though we're spending (a lot of money) that's not enough. We actually spend significantly less on defense today than we did at any point in the last 60 years. Today, defense spending is 4% of our GDP. It works out to $4,700 dollars for every tax payer in the U.S. With as large a budget as the Pentagon has, can't they find money somewhere else? Because of the way Congress manages their spending, it's difficult to just take it from somewhere else.

March 20, 2007

What a mess!

The firing of eight U.S. attorneys story is fantastically messy. First you have the Deputy AG McNulty telling the fired attorney's their firing was not for for performance issues, as was stated in the record, but for "issues about policy, priorities and management/leadership that we felt were important to the department's effectiveness," in contradiction to what his boss, Abu Gonzales, is saying. This was the story the day after the 3000 pages of emails were released.

The L.A. Times article "Justice Dept. worked to contain U.S. attorney fallout" describes the back-peddaling the Justice Dept. is doing as they "just want the stories to die." The reporter rightly focuses on specific examples in emails provided by the department that contradict their statements that the firings are performance, rather than politically, related.

Some evidence has also surfaced that makes it appear that one of the attorney's was fired to make room for a Rove protege. Juicy.

Since this story has been followed closely and reported on by so many media outlets, the challenge for any reporter would be to find another angle. In a Washington Post article entitled "Fitzgerald Ranked During Leak Case" from the same day, the reporters focus on another aspect of the story, namely that Patrick Fitzgerald, the attorney who just successfully prosecuted the Libby trial, was on the list of those being considered for dismissal. They write:

The ranking placed Fitzgerald below "strong U.S. Attorneys . . . who exhibited loyalty" to the administration but above "weak U.S. Attorneys who . . . chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.," according to Justice documents.

The chart was the first step in an effort to identify U.S. attorneys who should be removed. Two prosecutors who received the same ranking as Fitzgerald were later fired, documents show.

The jury for the Libby trial asked, What about the other guys, like Rove? Maybe this is the explanation. Fitzgerald was handed Libby in exchange for keeping his hands off Rove and getting to keep his job.

Then you have Bush going on t.v. saying he feels sorry for the attorney's having their story being subjected to so much media attention, like it's the fired attorneys whom he thinks would be embarrased and wouldn't want to their story to get out. How obtuse!,0,3082655.story?page=1&coll=la-home-headlines

March 8, 2007

Libby Verdict Buzz

And now for something completely different . . . Today's New York Times article "Debate Over a Pardon Follows the Libby Verdict" includes some interesting reactions from various fronts calling for pardons (from the right) or demanding a pledge from the President not to pardon (from the left).

Wall Street is also getting into the game. A trading company - advertising itself on its website as a "prediction market" - has set up a way for traders to bet(?) on whether there will be a pardon or not. Go to the website and look toward the right under "Exchange News" for Scooter Libby Pardon Contract. You've got to see it to believe it, or maybe I'm just out of the loop on this stuff.

NPR's "The World" reporter did a great op ed last night. It's really not analysis by her, she polls sources from around the world about their reaction to the verdict. It's worth a listen.

March 1, 2007

Walter Reed General Fired

The challenge for the Washington Post writers working on two articles for the same day’s paper is to tell (at least) two different - and new - stories. To this reader, they hit their mark. The first article, “Hospital Officials Knew of Neglect,? about the Walter Reed debacle, is by the reporters who initially broke the story a couple weeks ago. The story by the original reporters gives a chronology of events that lead up to the relief in command of the center, including details and quotes from various officials, including Donald Rumfeld’s wife, describing the conditions and complaints about the (lack of) care patients were given.

The second article, “Walter Reed General Relieved of Command,? gives details about the relief in command directly, including reaction from current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and what plans are under way for repairing the damaged system.

The interesting bit from both stories is that the commander replacing the guy that got canned used to command the center and is guilty of ignoring many complaints as well.

[I didn't link the articles - since Thursday when I saved the links below, the articles for these links have changed. Here's a cartoon to make up for that]

Clean up.gif

February 23, 2007

Target: 2002 War Authorization

In “Dems Move to Limit Bush’s War Authority,? published in the Guardian Unlimited this week, the first paragraph gives background both for the story and tells what the current focus is: “Four years ago, Congress passed legislation authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iraq. Now Senate Democrats want to take it back.?

The reporter gives more detail on the current movement and disagreements among Democrats over the options in subsequent paragraphs. In the eighth paragraph he includes the White House reaction to the debate, that it will “wait until legislation is completed before taking a stand?:

“I’m not going to talk about hypothetical legislation,? White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. “Obviously, the president intends, and his focus in on, having the resources and flexibility to carry out our operations on the ground. We don’t know where they’re going. The Democrats seem clearly divided on what they’re going to do.?

Two paragraphs of analysis are followed by comparisons between the Senate and House proposals. At long last, we are given the actual wording of the original resolution in paragraph 17:

That measure authorized the president to use the armed forces “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate . . . to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq? and to enforce relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The article then includes more specific information about individual Senator’s contributions to the debate.

A Washington Post article entitled “Democrats Seek to Repeal 2002 War Authorization? is not as circuitous as the Guardian piece. It starts with the Senate plan, how it compares to the House proposals, then goes on to explain the disagreements between Democrats. We get background in paragraph seven, at which time we also get discussion about why the resolution is no longer appropriate, and what actions from Democrats are possible.

The Post article is more direct and easier to follow.,,-6435477,00.html

February 12, 2007

Money From Somewhere

The New York Times had two interesting articles on tax Monday in the business section. As news articles, they satisfy the criteria of proximity, timliness, and impact - tax season is upon us and that affects nearly everyone. "Money From Somewhere" seems like a combination of analysis and hard news, but I'm taking the risk of using it here because I believe the writer covers this beat and may also have some credentials as an economist. Where it veers off into seeming like analysis or opinion is the reporter's use - or non-use - of attribution. He outlines the new Democratically-controlled Congress' plans to pay for increased program funding, referred to as "pay-go" rules, by cracking down on tax cheats, mostly from the middle class. He writes:

The data suggest that most of those who can cheat, do cheat. And that means millions of people. In its analysis of audited 2001 returns, the I.R.S. estimated that the government lost $109 billion from individual taxpayers who underreported business income.

Little of this money had been hidden in exotic tax-shelter schemes, and none of it stemmed from corporate machinations. This was income from sole proprietors — mom-and-pop businesses — and family farmers. Indeed, the overarching theme of the I.R.S. research is that the most pervasive underreporting occurs among people whose revenues are hardest to verify.

The reporter writes, and we are left to believe that this is his opinion, that recuperated money from that plan would be "overshadowed by the cost of overhauling the alternative minimum tax — a cost that Mr. Bush did not include in his budget proposal." He briefly explains the A.T.M. then goes on to offer some possible ways Congress might handle the problem.

A more likely strategy is that Democrats will pay for reducing the A.M.T. by raising other tax rates. Simply eliminating the tax deduction for state and local taxes, for example, would make up much of the loss. But that, like the A.M.T., would hit people in many Democratic-leaning “blue? states.

I found the article informative in some areas - those concepts I was already familiar with - and confusing in others. The "others" are the areas where the reporter speculates, such as in the last line of article, "In the end, with or without a crackdown on tax cheats, the cost is likely to fall somewhere between those two options."

The other Times article, much more informative, was about tax credits from $30 - $60 people can get from tax paid on long distance calls for the last three years. The reporter explains why the tax was originally levied - "It was first imposed in 1898, on calls costing 15 cents or more, to finance the Spanish-American War" - and why the government has decided not continue collecting it - "an outmoded billing method." Then the reporter explains who qualifies and where on their 2006 tax forms that person can go to claim it.

February 7, 2007

Bush's Budget Bomb

The topic of Bush's recent budget proposal was treated from different perspectives by a lot of media outlets. In fact, I had trouble finding multiple U.S. sources until I searched for them specifically. I found an AP article on the San Diego Union Tribune website sardonically entitled "Bush talks about fiscal responsibility at a company accused of price-fixing," which recounts a talk he gave Tuesday at a computer chip-making company. The article focuses more on the lawsuit the company recently settled. It doesn't explain the specific budget proposals except the part that gives the Pentagon $50 billion, which lead me to assume that computer chip manufacturers must stand to gain from that proposed funding in some way, no thanks to the reporter. The reporter quotes only this platitude from the President:

“The temptation in Washington is to spend your money on everything that sounds good. That's not how you run your family budget. That's not how this company runs its company budget and that's certainly not how the government ought not to run its budget.? Not sure if that double negative is the the fault of the writer or the Prez, but odds are it was all Bush.

An article from Texas' Star-Telegram speaks more directly about what the budget proposal portends in its headline, "Budget would be boon for N. Texas." The reader is then provided a list of bombers and other tsatskes the money would buy. I particularly appreciated this quote from Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute (something to do with the Air Force, I think) for its smugness:

"The conclusion is clear," said Thompson. "Whatever the budget pressures from the Iraq war may be, they aren't slowing the investment in new weapons systems."

You have to dig deeply to find articles about the cuts in social spending the President includes in his budget proposal, cuts that will effect the poorest, as always, but increasingly the middle class, not to mention cuts to the public media outlets NPR and PBS.


In a related NPR article, which I heard Monday on "All Thing's Considered," the reporter gives us viewpoints about the U.S. economy, namely the income disparity. The reporter culled from several sources and pulled about equal info and quotes from each. The reporter begins with a vivid image of what separates the wealthiest 1percent from the rest of us:

"A small sign of that explosion of wealth at the top is the increase in private jet sales. They're the latest status symbol for the super-wealthy, and sales for the jets are rising nearly 30 percent a year."

The report then proceeds to let his sources describe the middle-class squeeze in a typical bourgeois section of Manhattan, the advantage gained by a dot-com company as an "example of how technology and globalization have supercharged the earning power of skilled and creative workers," and ex-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin's assessment that funding education is a big key to maintaining a prosperous middle-class: "an effective, well-educated work force leads to investment, it catalyzes investment."

January 23, 2007

Scooter Sweats

This case seems tailor-made for our purposes since it involves reporters, sources and attribution. In a Jan. 30 New York Times article about Judith Miller's testimony during the leak case against I. Lewis Libby the reporters disclose right off the bat that Miller was a reporter for the Times. The first two paragraphs set up the story by giving a little background on the case. In the third paragraph the reporters begin to tell what happened during Miller's testimony, and they use some very descriptive language that helps the reader imagine the atmosphere and proceedings: "As she began her testimony, she was calm and soft-voiced as she faced Mr. Fitzgerald."

The reporters go on to describe a change in Miller's demeanor in the fourth paragraph, using the following phrases: "caustic cross-examination," "composure slowly withered," "sigh frequently and grow testy in responses." These phrases imbue the scene with emotion but I believe the writers crossed a line between unbiased reporting and editorializing. But one can imagine the scene.

It would be challenging for the reporters to relate what happened without using such descriptive words, and as a reader I appreciate the dramatization. Still, if they had used more direct or indirect quotes, they may have been able to avoid sounding as if they were attempting to skew the reader's opinion. Not all their descriptions are emotion-laden; in paragraph five they write: "she said with her voice rising . . ." which is right in line with how our class is being taught to attribute. But in paragraph 17 they write: "He noted with a large measure of sarcasm . . . " In paragraph 21, the reporters neither attibute nor quote:

Beyond the drama of the day’s proceedings, the appearance of Ms. Miller as someone forced by the government to testify against a source emphasized how the case has changed the landscape of relations between journalists and government officials.

I notice that Times reporters use much more colorful language in their attributions than do other papers. Perhaps writing for the paper of record gives you special dispensation.

In an AP article written the following day, the reporter makes use of direct quotes to tell the story of the trial during Matt Cooper's testimony. Skip past the first nine paragraphs and you'll find dialogue that reads like a cheap crime novel:

Anticipating the defense attack, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked whether Libby said where he heard that.

"Not in any way," Cooper replied.

Did he say he heard it from other reporters?

"No," Cooper said.

Cooper also said he didn't take any notes on that exchange and that he had posed his question to Libby "off the record." Later Cooper said off the record information cannot be attributed to the person but can be used to go get the information from others.

Libby attorney Jeffress pounded on Cooper's acknowledgments and also drew the jury's attention to the extensive notes and memos to Time editors that Cooper produced after his talk with Rove.

Jeffress asked Cooper if he ever asked Libby where he'd heard about Wilson's wife.

"I did not," Cooper replied.

His voice dripping with disbelief, Jeffress asked Cooper how he could take his exchange with Libby as confirmation.

"I took it as confirmation," Cooper said.

"Why didn't you put it in your memo to your editors?" Jeffress asked.

"I can't explain that," Cooper replied. "It was late in the day. I didn't write it down, but it is my memory."

"If somebody tells you something off the record, do you take it as confirmation?" Jeffress asked incredulously.

"I did in this case," Cooper replied. "You can use it to go to others and get a more fulsome account" that can be printed.

There is a bit of drama in that writing as well - "his voice dripping with sarcasm" and "Jeffress asked indredulously" - but the direct quotes give an account of the scene without a lot of filler.

For an audio recounting of the trial visit NPRs website.

Bush On Iran

In a Jan. 22 Reuters article about Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller, he admits his frustration over President Bush's deafness to cautions from advisers about military actions against Iran. The article relys mostly on Rockefeller's own words for its copy, so it doesn't give much history or context on the issue, but it does give the reader a comprehensive look the senator's interview, more so than does the New York Times article about the same interview. The AP reporter doesn't shy from letting the reader know that Rockefeller is not a Bush supporter: "I can't imagine, given the condition and the amplitude or lack of amplitude of our troops, that we would undertake such a mission. But I can't completely cast that out of my mind because I don't know how the president makes decisions," he added. "Go back to how it was he got us into Iraq."

A Jan 19 New York Times article focues on the same interview with the Senator, who is the new chariman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Times reporter offers more context, such as explaining that senators and representatives are now voicing concerns over Iran, possibly in response to President Bush's recent speech, when he said he "was determined to confront what he called worrying activities by Iranian operatives in Iraq." The Times gives the reader an idea the Senator Rockefeller is not alone in his concerns: "The comments of Mr. Rockefeller reflect the mounting concerns being voiced by other influential Democrats, including the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, about the Bush administration’s approach to Iran. The Democrats have warned that the administration is moving toward a confrontation with Iran when the United States has neither the military resources nor the support among American allies and members of Congress to carry out such a move."

The lead in the Reuters article is more straightforward than the Times article, stating who said what about whom. The Times article, on the other hand, is much wordier, and uses more emotional phrases like "sharply criticized" and "combative" when describing Rockefeller's comments about the administration's attempts build a case against Iran.

Even as Iran is in the news almost daily, there is little mention in the mainstream media about the alleged plans of the Bush administration to go after Iran. About 2 years ago, Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker that many top administration officials were saying that we were building bases in Iraq not just to occupy that country, but as a staging ground for an offensive into Iran. This issue has bubbled to the surface in the alternative and foreign press, but there hasn't been much about it in the American MSM until now, except to say that the Bush administration denies such a plan. Even Newsweek had something this week, with a teaser lead like those leading up to the evening news, designed to get you to tune in ("Has George W. Bush ordered up a "secret war" against Iran and Syria?"), but ended up repeating the administration's denials (sorry, I can't find the link now, but it's in LexisNexis databank)

But now Senator Rockefeller has said it out loud, and he is in a position to know. According the Times reporter, "because Mr. Rockefeller is one of a handful of lawmakers with access to the most classified intelligence about the threat from Iran, his views carry particular weight." Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector, posted an article in The Nation online today, warning about what sees as the real possibility we will be lead into a war against Iran. The fears that the administration has designs against Iran are founded. Hopefully this increased attention will thwart whatever plans are in the works.