Significantly Misleading

Here’s an example of a lede that promises something that the subsequent story doesn’t quite provide — and that in the process distorts a candidate’s position. Adam Nagourney’s piece in today’s New York Times begins with this: “Senator John Edwards said yesterday that his proposal to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, a pact he has repeatedly blamed for economic distress, would not significantly cut the flow of jobs abroad.”

Sounds like big news. After all, Edwards has made his differences with John Kerry over NAFTA a centerpiece of his pitch in recent weeks. Is he really now admitting that his approach wouldn’t “significantly” cut the number of jobs moved overseas?

Well, no, he isn’t. Later, Nagourney gives us Edwards’s actual words: “‘What we want to do is have a trade policy that’s fair and allows free trade to continue, but slows the loss of these jobs,’ he said. ‘It won’t stop it. Slows it.’”

Edwards didn’t cite projected numbers nor did he characterize this expected “slowing” of job losses as either “significant” or “insignficant.” But read Nagourney’s lede and you’re sure left with the impression that Edwards was admitting that his proposed policy would have little effect in the real world of jobs gained and lost.

Somehow we doubt that’s how the senator feels.

If you’re in any doubt that the piece may do damage to Edwards, consider this: John Kerry’s campaign sent an e-mail to reporters this morning, consisting of nothing but Nagourney’s story.

Zachary Roth

Note: Due to an editing error, this piece has been changed since it was first posted.

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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.