Tastes Great, Less Filling

Cut the boilerplate quotes, save a news story

One small thing that newspapers could do to help break their addiction to the pointless he said-she said story frame is to drop unnecessary quotes. A perfect opportunity for this comes in a New York Times article this morning headlined “President Links Qaeda of Iraq to Qaeda of 9/11,” by Jim Rutenberg and Mark Mazzetti, about Bush’s speech yesterday in Charleston, South Carolina.

The piece itself is actually pretty damn good; it quotes the president but is careful to properly qualify some of the claims he has been making about the relationship between Al Qaeda and it’s Iraqi namesake. But would benefit from some editorial liposuction in the fifth and sixth paragraphs. The following could go, and the story would lose nothing other than dutiful nod to “balance”:

Kevin Sullivan, the White House communications director, said the speech was devised as a “surge of facts” meant to rebut critics who say Mr. Bush is trying to rebuild support for the war by linking the Iraq group and the one led by Mr. bin Laden.

But Democratic lawmakers accused Mr. Bush of overstating those ties to provide a basis for continuing the American presence in Iraq. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said Mr. Bush was “trying to justify claims that have long ago been proven to be misleading.

We don’t need to know this. Giving us predictable quotes from a White House flak and an opposition politician doesn’t move the story along at all. Losing this stuff would also serve to tighten stories—making room for information that actually matters—and sharpen the focus.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.