Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Beating around Bush

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Beating around Bush

Article excerpt


When a myth helps lead to war, the press and the President should be active, not passive, debunkers

Every day, newspaper editors must grapple with the question: "What is news?" There is a fine calculus that goes into determining what belongs on the front page, what gets buried in the middle, and what doesn't appear in a newspaper at all.

In my article "Bush 9/11 Admission Gets Little Play" (E&P Online, Sept. 19), I explored the results of my study of how the 12 largest daily newspapers by circulation handled what seemed like an important event: President Bush admitting two days earlier that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, contrary to popular belief (an oft-cited August poll conducted by The Washington Post revealed that 69% of Americans believe that Hussein was personally involved in the attacks).

As it turned out, only three of the 12 biggest papers put the Bush admission on their front page, and two (The Wall Street Journal and New York Post) didn't mention it at all.

Within minutes after the story appeared online, we started getting letters. Some were the usual partisan rants, but more revealing were notes from people who worked at several major newspapers (outside the Top 12) who wanted to make sure we, and the world, knew that their paper had correctly recognized the import of this event. "I, too, was surprised to see how many papers played down the story," wrote Richard Chacon, deputy foreign editor of The Boston Globe. "Too bad Porges didn't cast his net a bit wider, however. He would've seen that the Boston Globe did run a prominent story on its front page."

Staff from The Seattle Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Newark Star-Ledger and Minneapolis Star-Tribune also wrote to draw attention to their paper's front-page coverage of the statement.

We also got mail from readers pointing with pride to their local papers' strong handling of the story -- or decrying their decision to bury it. One reader, Dennis Shook of Beaverton, Ore., told us that The Oregonian in Portland had failed to mention the Bush admission at all, so he had written in protest, but "they ignored my letter too."

Many of the notes were fiery with emotion. "This is about the most incredible thing I have ever read," John Zaragoza wrote. …

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