American politics journal

"Burying the Lede"
How American journalists censor themselves in the Corporate Era

by Tamara Baker

Mar. 3, 2003 -- SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA (APJP) -- Molly Ivins mentioned recently that, according to a recent nation-by-nation study of the the freedom and accuracy of the world's media, the US press comes in at -- guess where?

Not first, not second, not even in the top ten...

... but seventeenth place. Seventeenth!

Several former Soviet client states score better than we do.

Pitiful, but, alas, in this era of corporate Media Borgs swallowing up each other, all-too-predictable. As I've mentioned a gazillion times before, most Americans get their news from either TV or the radio. If something only appears in a newspaper, Joe and Jane Average will never hear about it unless a miracle occurs.

Even in the print media, the really big news tends to get hidden away, obscured by misleading headlines and/or mentioned in passing:

  • TIME magazine chose to hide poll data unfavorable to Bush in a small sidebar tucked away from the text of its recent Hymn to the Greatness of Our Dear Leader.
  • Newsday's Laurie Garrett writes a scathing, scary epistle on the World Economic Forum at Davos -- but since it was an e-mail, not an article, the only way we found out about it was when one of her friends passed it along. Garrett didn't dare ask Newsday to print it, probably because it would have upset too many applecarts, and angered too many powerful Republicans.
  • The corporate press will gladly cover a dog stuck on a New Jersey ice floe, but when Josh Marshall, over at his excellent Talking Points Memo website, exposes the phone-bank-disrupting dirty tricks campaign of "GOP Marketplace", the corporate media stay far, far away from the story.

And look at this article by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, whose writing I have discussed before in APJ.

The headline is "The Political Mind Behind Tort Reform", which would lead you to think that this is a piece mostly about Karl Rove's role in promoting 'tort reform', a role which he now proudly acknowledges.

However, the salient part -- the Real Story, or "lede" -- is found in these two paragraphs, buried in the middle of the article:

As part of his work for the tobacco company, Rove in 1996
provided advice on a "push poll" to see how best to damage
then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, who was threatening
to sue the tobacco industry. Rove presented a copy of the
findings to Bush's office.

Rove's claim of responsibility for the tort reform issue is
somewhat at odds with a deposition he gave during the
tobacco lawsuit. Asked whether he discussed overhauling
civil liability law with then-Gov. Bush, he replied: "I
can't say that I did. But I can't say that I didn't. I do not
recall. I know that tort reform was a significant part of his
legislative agenda but it was not my area."

Got that?

Karl Rove lied under oath.

Blatantly and obviously.

And he did so knowingly, and in answer to a question that was germane to the case being tried.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's perjury.

But since it's about tobacco and not sex, and since Karl is a Republican with the power to ensure that Dana Milbank or anyone else on the Post staff never has access to anyone in the Bush Junta ever again, that's not exactly emphasized.

This is what's known as "burying the lede".

Back when we still had a free press, burying the lede was one of the biggest sins a journalist could make. Nowadays, when openly and directly mentioning the truth is verboten in Corporate Media Land, the only way to get a hot "lede" into print is by literally smuggling it into a story and hoping your editors won't notice. Unfortunately, this usually means that your readers won't notice it, either.

Milbank, though he describes Rove's behavior with enough precision to show the reader what Rove did, doesn't dare call it perjury, or lying under oath, or even just plain old lying. He never felt the need to show such restraint when talking about Bill Clinton's efforts to hide minor hanky-panky between consenting adults.

This isn't the first time that Milbank has felt the need to back off from using the words "liar", "liars" or "lying" to refer to the Bushies and their actions.

As I noted last November, in reference to this column of Milbank's,

... even as he was drawing up a list of lies that if
uttered by a Democratic president would be grounds for
impeachment (heck, Clinton was impeached on far less),
could not bring himself, or was not allowed by his
editors, to say straight-out that George W. Bush is a
liar. In fact, in a vain attempt to fend off the
Bushistas' jack-boots, he took pains to mention Clinton's
efforts to conceal the existence of his affair with
Monica Lewinsky -- as if hiding an affair is as bad or
worse than deliberately lying to the American people about
whether invading Iraq is justified.

As the good doctor Gonzo says, "'Nuff said."


Copyright © 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, American Politics Journal Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. Read our privacy policy. Contact us.
ISSN No. 1523-1690