Oops, They Didn’t Do it Again

Add today’s story by Andy Lenderman of the Albuquerque Journal to the What Not to Do list.

Lenderman reports that President Bush, while singling out a local small business owner during an “Ask President Bush” appearance in Albuquerque yesterday, said: “That’s why we’ve got to make sure tax policy does not harm small businesses. When you hear my opponent talking about taxing the rich, he’s really taxing small businesses …”

And then Lenderman is off to something else, not bothering to pause long enough to give Bush’s statement a fact check.

So one more time, class: Reporters have an obligation to readers to ________ (fill in the blank).

Yes, the correct answer is “do more than just transcribe portions of a candidate’s speech.”

(After all, a simple transcript of the speech is readily available right here.)

It just takes a sentence or two to unravel for readers the campaign claim contained within Bush’s quote. When John Kerry talks about “taxing the rich,” is he “really taxing small businesses?” (No, as we recently explained).

Lenderman’s pieces carries the aura of verisimilitude, because he did report plenty of details — including what the protestors’ signs said and what time Air Force One landed and took off. All he left out were the details that matter the most: the ones that can help readers become informed voters.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.