Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Another editing note

In the same edition as noted below, is a Cox News Service story on Sandy Berger's travails after apparently being a little light-fingered with classified documents. Except the story goes on for 16 grafs before finally getting to Berger's explanation that he inadvertently picked them up.

Doesn't matter whether you believe him or not, a person's response to damning charges should be much higher in a story. The earlier comments from Berger about why he was withdrawing from Kerry's campaign do not suffice. In 16 grafs the story laid out all the charges and countercharges, including the rather sideshow exchange of nastiness by Republicans and Democrats, before ever getting to Berger's response in three of the final four grafs.

That's poor writing and worse editing.

The Wall Street Journal did a little better -- the explanation from Berger's lawyer was in the seventh graf, though of a nine-graf story. But earlier in the story was this: Two Republican senators, meanwhile, accused Mr. Berger of taking the documents to bolster Sen. Kerry's campaign -- a charge not made by Justice Department officials.

That was it. No names. Just a naked unsubstantiated allegation hidden behind the cloak of anonymity. Did the WSJ folks miss that day in journalism school -- right after they teach you how to spell "adviser" -- where they stress that you don't use anonymous sources to attack people? (And never mind that these were not anonymous because they were clearly quoted elsewhere; the Journal made them so in the context of its story.)

It doesn't matter whether we've reported Berger's explanation before; it or a summary of it needs to be high in every story. We need to do the same for the president, the councilman, the teacher, the butcher, baker and candlestick maker -- even for the most scurrilous criminal we can think of, if he or she proclaims innocence. It should be as high as we can get it, and preferably before the jump.

It's simple fairness.

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