Consider this description from the second paragraph of the Associated Press’ account of President Bush’s speech at a fundraiser yesterday:
[Bush] leveled his sharpest criticism yet at his rivals in a speech Monday night. Bush recalled terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, signaling his willingness to use the strikes for political gain, which his aides long had promised would not be done.
Here’s the passage the AP cites as evidence that Bush was “using the attacks for political gain”:
September the 14th, 2001, I stood in the ruins of the Twin Towers. I remember a lot that day … As we all did that day, these men and women searching through the rubble took it personally. I took it personally,” he said. “I have a responsibility that goes on. I will never relent in bringing justice to our enemies. I will defend America, whatever it takes.”
Is there political gain to be had in such remarks? Sure. But the president, or any candidate, also has a right to explain how, in his view, the attacks created the need for a more aggressive foreign policy.
AP’s opening paragraph sounds as if it were written by the Democratic National Committee. If this reporter, or any other, wants to impute political motivation to the president, he would have no trouble finding a political opponent to put it that way. But to declare that intent as fact isn’t journalism; it’s editorializing. AP has built its fragile reputation for impartiality by avoiding just that sort of unjustified characterization.
—Z.R.Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.