Musings on the 'Post' Iraq piece

I'm not rushing to judgement on what do the Dems do now? - a piece of self-restraint aided no end by the fact that, as of now, I haven't the faintest idea.

Today's gobbet feeding interest in the question is the Post piece that Jonathan talks about.

What gives? One of the comments flags a TPM piece which takes the story on a little.

As with all of these pieces reliant on blind quotes for their oomph, you have to read them closely.

(They're in code - but use plain English words (to fool the unwary).)

First, it's on the front page (the Post site tells where in the dead-tree paper its pieces run, the Times site doesn't); and the hed (the copyeditor's domain, not the scribe's, of course) is entirely free from qualification.

Clearly, senior editorial management were not only happy that the story was sound, but deliberately made it a splash (like they did with the Walter Reed stories).

(Had they wanted to run with it, but without a splash - well, that's what A17 is for!)

The lede is similarly unqualified - no reference, for example, to sourcing, which might have suggested that paper was happy to report the story as a story told to us - but weren't happy to adopt the story as its own understanding of what is going on.

Reid and Pelosi are quoted given their post Bush meeting boilerplate - whatever you say, say nothing! - and there's a couple of words from Bush.

Then (in graf 5) the mildly interesting stuff comes in: the quote from Inglis of SC. (What he says may be mere bloviation, or disinformation, or coat-trailing from a segment of the GOP - or he may just be a rentaquote willing to oblige with a few words in exchange for the publicity.)

Graf 7 moves the piece towards treating the parties' options - check: the Dems' options. (They do have majorities in both houses, after all!)

Benchmarks for the Iraqi government have been (my not terribly assiduous reading over the past few days) the common ground that folks from both parties have identified as the basis of an agreement.

Hoyer, Durbin and Snowe are quoted making positive noises on benchmarks. Even the WH is prepared to consider them, it says.

On the negative side (at grafs 14/15), we have Feingold (on the record) and Obey (off?) offering a threat to the Dems' left flank should the leaderships decide on putting forward a supplemental bill with a weakened text.

Finally, the piece confirms (not a surprise!) that some GOP MCs won't vote for any bill with any sort of benchmark text.

So - the quotes in the body of the piece go some way to provide a context for the bald statement in the lede - they explain the difficulties the leaderships face that might lead them to proffer a weaker bill - but give no support for the assertion that the concession has actually been made.

(It's clear from the lede that it's not talking about a proposal being kicked about by Dem leaders; or one agreed by them, but no yet put on the table with WH negotiators: offering, in context, can only mean the Dems told the WH guys so.)

Now, I'm not suggesting that there was any possibility that the Post could have got anyone from the leaderships to go on the record to annouce the concession. (If, indeed, such a concession has been made.)

But - my understanding is that both the Times and the Post have striven in recent years (post-Jayson Blair, etc) to give some information in the piece about the level and job of the guy giving the blind quote.

It's a bit of a farce; but it does at least show the rags at least nodding towards the reader's desire not to be hornswaggled.

Nothing of the sort in the Iraq piece.

Go to the TPM piece; the blogger gets a denial statement from Pelosi's office, and

a source in Reid's office tells me the following: "No decisions have been made on this yet. No options have been ruled in or out."

You will of course savor the irony that this itself is a blind quote!

One of the journos emails the blogger in response:

   That is very interesting, since I was told in no uncertain terms by one of her aides that the withdrawal dates had to go, since they could not stand by language Bush would never sign. That was co[n]firmed by another senior leadership aide and two members of the leadership.

   I can say with no reluctance whatsoever that we stand by the story. By the way, nobody has contacted me about it. That should tell you a lot.

Why didn't he give sourcing details in the piece?

How wide does leadership go? We're not talking about some lowest form of life whip or something, surely?

My tentative conclusion: the editors wouldn't have splashed the piece if they weren't convinced that the sourcing was kosher.

It could, of course, be a hit piece engineered by the Post off its own bat.

It could be part of a power struggle within the Dem leaderships for control over handling of the Iraq issue.

It could be a trick to lull GOP leaders into a false sense of security. (That stinks - but, for the sake of completeness...)

It could be (at least the Catholics say that the age of miracles is not dead!) that everyone is talking with complete sincerity.

That's as far as my musings take me.

Update [2007-5-3 14:17:3 by skeptic06]:

More Hoyer at The Hill.

Tags: journalism, Post 'Democrats Back Down on Iraq Timetable' Piece, Textual Analysis (all tags)


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