Monday, August 16, 2004

Dueling Gloss Overs

I'd like to think my psychic powers were in overdrive when I predicted the Pioneer Press would eventually cover the Kerry Christmas in Cambodia story with a dismissive article dripping with skepticism and criticism of the accusers throughout. Because, amazingly, in the Sunday Pioneer Press, I found that exact article. But I know that one doesn't need psychic abilities to predict the behavior of the mainstream media when it comes to reporting on political matters.

One does need patience and a keen eye though, because the article wasn't easy to find. It was buried deep in the A section and off page 1 of their Web page. And no one from the Pioneer Press actually wrote the article, it was picked up from the Dallas Morning News. And it actually doesn't even mention the C-word (Cambodia) at all. The closest we get is this soft shoe description:

The group behind the attack, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has accused Kerry of everything from exaggerating claims to earn medals and Purple Hearts to having his own film crew capturing future campaign footage during his tour in Vietnam almost 35 years ago.

But reading through it, you'll see it is indeed dismissive and hostile to the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. Parts of it gave me a sense of deja vu. No, this wasn't my psychic muscles flexing themselves again. The deja vu was based on the fact that I had read parts of this article before. Just yesterday, as a matter of fact, in the Star Tribune.

The first similarity I noticed was this description of Swift Boat Vet John O'Neill. As written by Bob Von Sternberg on Saturday in the Star Tribune:

In the book, longtime Kerry nemesis John O'Neill accuses him of distorting his war record for political gain.

And as written by Bob Tarrant in the Dallas Morning News:

The book, "Unfit for Command," is co-authored by longtime Kerry nemesis John O'Neill, a Houston lawyer who followed Kerry as commander of Patrol Craft Fast 94.

I suppose it's possible that's a coincidence. When you're trying to subtly undermine a man's credibility, there are only so many words in the English language to use for a particular set of facts. Although I think using "chronic Kerry cat caller" works even better than "long time Kerry nemesis".

My charitable instincts faded when I came across these characterizations of chronic Kerry cat caller George Elliot. First, Von Sternberg in the Star Tribune:

One, retired Capt. George Elliott, reportedly recanted his accusation that Kerry did not deserve his Silver Star. But after the Boston Globe published a story quoting him as saying he withdrew the charges, the Swift Boat Veterans released an affidavit in which Elliott swore he stood by his accusation. But in 1996, Elliott had been quoted in news reports praising Kerry's actions as courageous.

Now, Tarrant in the Dallas Morning News

One member in the ad, retired Capt. George Elliott, reportedly recanted his accusations that Kerry did not deserve his Silver Star. But after the Boston Globe published that, the Swift Boat Veterans released an affidavit in which Elliott swore he stood by his accusation. But in 1996, Elliott was quoted in news reports praising Kerry's actions as courageous.

An article in two different papers, credited to two different writers, and an entire paragraph nearly identical in content. What is going on here?

Is one guy plagiarizing the other? Are these guys working off the same template? Ripping off the same wire service copy? Am I naive to believe that articles attributed exclusively to different individuals should contain original content?

If so, I guess that would make their reporting the equivalent of paraphrasing the Encyclopedia Britannica for your school report on the sperm whale. I hope that's not the case, as it would tend to diminish the high regard which I hold newspaper reporters. Inquiring emails shall be sent to both parties. Updates as events warrant.

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