Yesterday, Associated Press White House correspondent Terence Hunt wrote a piece claiming, in the lede, that “even before the bombing in Madrid, White House officials were worrying that terrorists would strike the United States before the November elections.”

As former University of Kansas journalism professor Mike Cuenca pointed out to Campaign Desk, that wording leaves the vague impression that officials are worried that a terrorist attack would put the president’s re-election at risk. The problem is, Hunt then neglects to quote or reference even one White House official saying anything of the sort. As Cuenca writes:

Hunt quoted two university political psychology professors, one university political science professor, a pollster, and a political analyst. But not even those speakers quoted anyone in the White House. In fact, he quoted pollster Andy Kohut as saying that “the traditional effect [of a terrorist attack] is a rally,” presumably around the President and in support of his policies, which White House officials don’t likely fear.

The piece does quote National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and President Bush warning of possible future attacks — which each has done numerous times — but they never, as Hunt implies in his lede, discuss terrorism within the context of the election.

What we’re left with is a bait-and-switch lede and equally misleading headline — “Officials Worry of Pre-Election Attack” — on a story that really contains no news at all.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.