Hidden Is The Word for This News, All Right

This morning, yet more evidence of how Swift BoatGate has dominated mainstream media, and relegated serious election-year issues to the fine print (when they’re addressed at all).

The New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Elisabeth Bumiller today bring us a story, based on “a half-hour interview” with President Bush, with the headline: “Bush Dismisses Idea That Kerry Lied on Vietnam.” The lede reads: “President Bush said on Thursday he did not believe Senator John Kerry lied about his war record, but he declined to condemn the television commercial paid for by a veterans group alleging Mr. Kerry came by his war medals dishonestly.”

Yes, this is a new and arguably important wrinkle in Swift BoatGate. But to our mind, The Times buried the more important and equally eye-catching piece of news — one that deals with an issue far more critical for voters than the latest installment of As The Swift Boat Turns. That would be the news found in the first sentence of the fifth paragraph of Sanger and Bumiller’s dispatch:

Mr. Bush also acknowledged for the first time that he made a “miscalculation of what the conditions would be” in post-war Iraq. But he insisted that the 17-month-long insurgency that has upended the administration’s plans for the country was the unintended by-product of a “swift victory” against Saddam Hussein’s military, which fled and then disappeared into the cities, enabling them to mount a rebellion against the American forces far faster than Mr. Bush and his aides had anticipated.

Now that’s news. But you wouldn’t know it from reading The Times. In the headline of the print edition of the story, word of the president’s acknowledgement of miscalculation in Iraq is relegated to the third deck of a three-deck headline, and in the online version of the story, it doesn’t make the headline at all.

We understand the Times’ need to highlight for its readers an exclusive — Bush saying something new about Swift BoatGate. But at the expense of elaborating on a startling presidential concession on an issue of war and peace on the eve of a renominating convention?

Silly us … on a relative scale of importance, we’re still more worried about what’s unfolding in the year 2004 than we are about who did what to whom in 1972.

Liz Cox Barrett

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.