Nice Lede, But Where’s the Beef?

January 19, 2004

People picking up their papers across America in Redwood City, California, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Lorain, Ohio, and Helena, Montana today will read Ron Fournier’s syndicated Associated Press article recapping the last day of Democratic campaigning in Iowa.

Fournier’s lead paragraph depicts the Democratic candidates in an all-out name-calling battle: “Bickering to the last, Democrats traded insults Sunday as they reached for the finish line in a close and caustic Iowa caucus race, the first step toward picking President Bush’s rival.”

Campaign Desk has no problem with Fournier portraying the Democrats as insult traders, if, in fact, he has gathered the evidence to support the claim. But the sound bytes he has included portray the Democrats sending out a positive message hell-bent on winning the Iowa caucus. For example, Fournier quotes Rep. Dick Gephardt stating that “We are going to win. A few moments later, Fournier quotes Gephardt again: ”I don’t need this job; I don’t need this title. But America needs a leader who comes from a life experience of the people. Forget about me, I’m unimportant in this, I’m an instrument.” Finally, he quotes Sen. John Kerry attacking “powerful monied interests” – hardly the stuff of intra-party strife.

Fournier’s evidence for “bickering” comes near the middle of his article in which he recaps the negative campaigning that took place this last week. The only original reporting Fournier seems to have done that supports the “bickering” thesis is a quote from Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie suggesting that “They’re not quite as vicious to each other as they are to President Bush, but they’re getting close.”

Gillespie “bickering” about the candidates hardly adds up to the candidates “bickering” about each other.

If you want an example of a story where the evidence backs up the lead, then check out Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg in Monday’s New York Times. To support their claim that the Democrats finished Sunday with “snipes at one another” they offer this sound byte: “‘In the Senate four years — and that is the full extent of public life — no international experience, no military experience, you can imagine what the advertising is going to be next year,’ [Sen. John] Kerry said. With a grin, he added: ‘When I came back from Vietnam in 1969 I don’t know if John Edwards was out of diapers then. Well, I’m sure he was out of diapers.'” (Kerry reportedly apologized to Edwards for the remark Sunday evening).

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–Thomas Lang

Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.