Canadian Bacon

Earlier today President Bush traveled to Ottawa to meet with Canada Prime Minister Paul Martin. This afternoon’s account from the Associated Press led:

President Bush Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin sought on Tuesday to mend fences after four years of strained relations between the two neighbors aggravated by the U.S.-led war on Iraq. “I made some decisions that some in Canada obviously didn’t agree with,” Bush said.

In fact, while it’s no secret that the two countries disagree over Iraq, in Canada the foreign policy question was secondary to the rift caused by trade disputes over a U.S. ban on Canadian beef imports and U.S.-imposed tariffs on Canadian lumber. Yet the story fails to mention those disputes in the first two paragraphs. While trade disputes are hinted at in the third paragraph, a full explanation of the matter is not spelled out until after the author gets through paragraphs on Ukraine and Iran, leaving the reader with the impression that foreign policy is at the heart of the two countries’ “strained relations.”

A failure to accurately frame what is at issue here is not this story’s only fault. AP readers are also treated to the wire service’s all-too-frequent penchant for botching elementary facts. Thus, more than halfway through the story, we are informed:

Bush’s visit, his first trip outside the country since the election, was viewed as an initial outreach to longtime allies estranged by his decision to invade Iraq in 2003. [Emphasis added.]

Apparently the AP forgot about the President’s trip to Chile and Colombia, just a few days ago.

Furthermore, it’s inaccurate to characterize Bush’s visit as an “initial outreach” since the two men met only days ago when both were in Chile.

These are not the gravest of journalistic errors — but they are the type of errors that have to be exasperating for the editors (and readers) of hundreds of smaller newspapers everywhere, who rely on AP to give them their daily picture of the world.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.