Saturday, April 09, 2005

 

SAEN and AP: anti-Bush tag team?

We live in a wonderful age of news consumer freedom, where - thanks to the Internet - the average Joe no longer must rely on the local newspaper as the sole source of information. Better yet, we can use that more complete information to analyze the local news sources for partisanship. As you have seen, Express-News Watch will be using this method for documenting SAEN bias by comparing their edited versions of news wire reports. Their editorial choices in determining which portions will be printed from the full report will expose any bias in that selection.

There is a choice specimen this morning in their Associated Press article headlined "Public dissatisfaction with Bush grows" (page A6, not online at mysa.com, as far as I can find). The initial shock is that, while the SAEN printed the article under the sole byline of Will Lester of the Associated Press, the first two paragraphs are rewrites that appear nowhere in Lester's article! (which can be seen in full here). Does the Associated Press know the SAEN is editing their dispatches without proper attribution?

The SAEN article was so obviously squeezed into three two-inch columns that I eagerly sought the full text to see what had been left out by the editor. Bush's low poll results in domestic issues were the only results printed, which led me to believe they had chosen to truncate the article in order to not report on the more positive poll results in regard to his foreign policy.

How naive of me.

It is the AP itself which has written an article which ignores the full poll results. Another wonder of the Internet is that we can view the full poll results online. As you can see, consistent public approval for foreign policy issues is reflected in the poll, but not given any mention whatsoever in the article. You will also note the AP polled 48% Democrats and only 41% Republicans...and here we all thought that control of the White House and both houses of Congress indicated that the majority of Americans were Republicans!

So much for the poll being balanced. The article itself is a proof case of biased reporting. Let's look, for example, at the individuals quoted in defense of Bush.
"It looks like it's caused by a confluence of events," said Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, pointing to uphill efforts to change Social Security, the Schiavo case and "economic jitters" heightened by rising oil prices.
A "Republican pollster", obviously with a vested interest in shoring up Bush's poll numbers - don't believe this guy! I particularly relish that adjective "uphill"...so evenhanded!
The president's poll standing has been in the mid-40s to low-50s for the past two years, said Matthew Dowd, who was a strategist and pollster for Bush in the 2004 presidential campaign.

"The president being at the lower end of his normal range has more to do with the price of gasoline and thus, economic confidence, than anything else," Dowd said.
This guy is not only a Republican pollster, but helped get Bush reelected. Don't believe him, either!

On the other hand, the AP found it easy to find a number of Republicans who expressed misgivings with Bush.
"This is a pretty sour spring," said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. "People are not very impressed by what Bush is doing or by what Congress is doing Democrats or Republicans."

*****
"I don't know that the exit strategy in Iraq is completely thought out. And I don't know that all the Social Security options have been explored," said Scott Lindsey, a Republican who lives around Memphis, Tenn. "But I think President Bush is doing a good job."
[Nice of them to acknowledge, at the end of the quote, that this guy still supports Bush]
*****
Denise Brown, a 41-year-old Republican from Prattville, Ala., is among those Bush has yet to convince [regarding Social Security reform].

"I'm not sold on it," she said. "Maybe there haven't been any alternatives put out there. Something definitely needs to be done, but there are probably other ways to do it that may be better."


(Note this disgruntled Republican was the only quote the SAEN managed to squeeze into their article)
Well, so much for Bush's base! Thank goodness we have no federal recall law, or undoubtedly the massive Republican dissatisfaction with GW would result in his sharing the fate of Gray Davis!

On a side note, may I express my disdain for that hackneyed poll question: "Generally speaking, would you say things in this country are heading in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track?" The response to this question - which, in every poll ever taken since the reign of Julius Caesar, has ALWAYS been negative - is invariably analyzed as an indictment of the incumbent. But, given the judicial murder of Terri Schiavo, Democrat's obstructing judicial nominees through filibuster, the continued spread of morally corrupt "entertainment", and other social ills, is it not possible for even the most hardened Bush supporter to answer this question in the negative? This poll question is worse than useless...stick a fork in it.

In conclusion, the SAEN appears to be less culpable in this biased article than their source, the AP. However, is it not of interest that when the SAEN passes on unbalanced news from other sources, the articles are invariably anti-Bush in their slant? Have we seen them do the opposite? Not in my experience.

The other interesting question is why the SAEN saw fit to add two paragraphs to Lester's bylined article without attribution. Anyone with press editing experience is invited to comment on how that might be justified.
Comments:
Does the Associated Press know the SAEN is editing their dispatches without proper attribution?

I've never seen a contract that newspapers sign with the AP, so I could be wrong on this. But based on my 15 years of working at various papers that were AP members, this is how I understand it to work...

The local paper has the right to take any AP story and edit it in any way it sees fit for space or style reasons. They can also rewrite portions of the story or add to it in order to localize it for their readers. This is quite common. If you've ever noticed a story with a local reporter's byline followed by a tagline at the end that says 'The AP contributed to this report' that usually means it was an AP story that an editor assigned to a local reporter and had them localize it, usually by interviewing local people and adding their comments to the story.
Likewise, the AP has the right to take any story from the local paper and use it as an AP story which can then be edited, changed and distributed to other member papers. I've had a number of my stories over the years get picked up by the AP.


In conclusion, the SAEN appears to be less culpable in this biased article than their source, the AP.

I think it is good that you can actually go and doublecheck the full AP stories now for comparison because I think you will find as in this case that your conspiracy theory about biased copy editors chopping out the conservative stuff and leaving all the liberal stuff isn't going to hold water.
The truth is that the copy editors are just trying to cram a 30-inch story into a 12-inch newshole and write a dozen headlines all under extreme deadline pressure. It's no wonder that copy editors tend to burn out quicker than most other positions in the news biz. At least at the papers I've worked at, they always had the highest turnover rate.
 
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