There is a particular media conceit that, in the garb of purported impeccable disclosure, is in fact a license for news sources to market talking points.
A hilarious example of the breed can be found in an article by Anne E. Kornblut in the Sunday Washington Post. The article is about the White House’s intended use of the bin Laden event and is titled “Bin Laden raid fits into Obama’s ‘big things’ message.”
The phrase in question is the italicized words in the following quote: “A senior administration official, who spoke on the conditions of anonymity to speak freely about internal thinking , said the White House is not developing a strategy to leverage the raid in other difficult arenas, such as the budget or debt-ceiling negotiations with the Republicans. And the official insisted it would not change the overall message or approach of the 2012 campaign, which has long been described as a campaign focused on the economy.
“Still, it will almost certainly help a president elected on ‘hope’ and ‘change’ to shift his next campaign in a new direction.”
Of course, the entire point of the article was precisely the opposite of what the unnamed official said: that the White House staff, in fact, is itching to take political advantage of the bin Laden killing.
Indeed, the constant quotes of clumsy denials of political calculations by senior White House officials is the artful leitmotif of the entire article.
Admittedly, the senior official was merely following an old, regularly used Washington tactic: going on background not necessarily to speak the truth, but to spin the office talking point — and make it sound like it is an inside revelation, rather than just a standard piece of propaganda for mass consumption.
While the Post, The New York Times and other such media regularly use the italicized phrase, in this instance, the entire article is a substantive refutation of the phrase. As a result, the phrase is actually misreporting facts observed by the reporter.
(Let me emphasize, this is not the reporter’s fault. It is the news outlet’s policy and is enforced by their editors. The reporter has no say in such matters.)
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