Part of the News That�s Fit to Print

David Stout covers President Bush’s speech at a pancake breakfast in Maumee, Ohio this morning for the But his story, which extensively quotes the president attacking John Kerry, fails to include any sort of response from the Democratic challenger, or to offer readers the most basic assessment of the president’s claims.

Stout quotes Bush saying, among other things, “My opponent and others believe this [the war on terror] is a matter of intelligence and law enforcement,” Mr. Bush said. “I strongly disagree. See, that was the attitude we had before Sept. 11. After the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993, they thought we could solve it with legal indictments.”

In fact, there’s little difference between the two candidates’ approaches to combating terrorism: Both have affirmed that it needs to be done through a combination of intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, and, when appropriate, military action. That Kerry, unlike Bush, “believe[s] this is a matter of intelligence and law enforcement” is Bush’s spin on his opponent’s stand, not his actual stand. It ought to be a reporter’s job to point that out.

If past is preface, the Times’ defense here is that this is a story for the paper’s online edition. Editors at various major papers have argued to Campaign Desk that readers understand online stories to be works in progress, and that the print edition provides the more detailed version the next morning.

But as we said earlier, that argument presumes that online readers also buy and read the print newspaper. We’ve seen no evidence of that — in fact, on weekdays the Times online readership actually exceeds its print readership. And the only indication those readers have that this story is incomplete are the easily-missed letters “CND” (which stand for Continuous News Desk) that appear in the piece’s URL.

Maybe it’s time the Times apply the same standards to its most-read edition as it does to its dead-tree edition.

Zachary Roth

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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.