Assume the Position

Wednesday, July 14, 2004
UK WMD Intelligence Review - Butler Committee Report - No Spin Link Zone

The Butler Committee Report, "Review on Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction," (1 MB PDF) can be downloaded from the official links: here, here, here, or here.

As with the Senate Intel Committee report on prewar intelligence, avoid the media spin by reading it yourself.

UPDATE - July 16, 2004: Too much cyan-on-white is an eye-killer.

Getting Fooled Again

In the minor flap between Pete Townshend and Michael Moore comes this line from the Washington Post's Jefferson Morley writing the world opinion roundup article, "Michael Moore, Ugly American" (emphasis added):

"I greatly resent being bullied and slurred by him just because he didn't get what we [sic] wanted from me," Townshend told Ireland Online.

"Townshend told Ireland Online" strongly implies direct communication between Pete Townshend and Ireland Online—an interview, letter to the editor, etc. It's highly unlikely such direct communications took place. The Ireland Online story, "Townshend fuming over Fahrenheit row," (which contains the "we" instead of "he" mistake) doesn't indicate where Ireland Online got the Townshend quotes; but Louise Jury Arts writing on the same story in the Independent clearly states the quotes come from "the rock star's website."

Jefferson Morely was misled by the omission in the Ireland Online story and, in turn, further misled his readers. Although this example is a rather small and unimportant distortion, it's the result of the nocuous practice I've previously called press release journalism:

My own small gripe … is press release journalism. I'd rather they just print the press releases, heading and all, instead of pretending they are reporting a story when 90 percent or more of their report is just a direct copy and some slight paraphrasing of an organization's press release. If I can't easily separate the press release spin from what should be the reporter's additions (background, opposing views, etc.) then I'm being misled.

I'm not one of those nitpickers who insist that the various forms of "say" only pertain to speech. The memorandum said… is fine by me because the context makes clear that "said" refers to a written statement. It's when the context is missing that Ireland Online's first line, "Rock legend Pete Townshend has launched a scathing attack at film-maker Michael Moore, saying he has been 'bullied and slurred' by the director," becomes Morely's, "…Townshend told Ireland Online."

The missing source context is the hallmark of press release journalism; it's an intentional attempt to fool the reader into believing more effort went into the story than just cutting and pasting whatever an individual or organization put out and to elevate the importance of the reporter. (The latter is typified in blogdom by the "I got an email from [important name] …" when the blogger really just subscribes to a mailing-list.) It becomes pernicious when it implies a conversation between the subject and reporter because the reader is led to assume the reporter was able to question the subject and dig out further detail.

[Press releases are often written in the format of a news story, which makes it easy for the press to simply cut and paste. If you'd like to see plenty of examples, check out US Newswire and PR Newswire.]

Blogs may have beaten the press in timeliness on this story, too. While the above Washington Post and Ireland Online links are via this July 14th post by Tim Blair, who also links to the entry on Townshend's site, I first ran across the story and link to Townshend via Vodka Pundit's July 9th post. That was a day before Ireland Online, four days before the Washington Post, and five days before the Independent stories.

Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.