Thursday, March 23, 2006

EDITOR & PUBLISHER ANALYSIS: AP's Bush 'Straw Man' Story: News

EDITOR & PUBLISHER reaction story:
(reproduced below in case it goes behind a pay wall)

Published: March 22, 2006 12:55 PM ET

AP's Bush 'Straw Man' Story: News Analysis Or Unlabeled Opinion?

By Joe Strupp
Editor & Publisher Oneline

NEW YORK Did a recent Associated Press story examining President George Bush's alleged tendency to use a "straw man" approach in his speeches cross the line from news to biased opinion? Or was it just a long-overdue, in-depth review of the president's public speaking approach? The viewpoint, as often happens in Washington, depends on whose blog you are reading, and what you consider opinion and analysis. Still, the article by reporter Jennifer Loven sparked an interesting debate on the blogosphere, and in some newsrooms, over how such an examination of a public figure can cross the line from reporting to opining. Since the piece was not labeled a column, or even analysis, it raised some eyebrows as it veered into a sharp attack on Bush's use of such tactics.

The article has drawn reactions ranging from a supportive mass e-mailing from to criticism by the conservative Powerline blog and American Federalist Journal. But an AP spokesman says editors want more of these types of wire stories. The story, posted by AP last weekend, cited the president's habit of using phrases such as "some say" or "some believe" when introducing a viewpoint that challenges his own. One example Loven noted was Bush saying "some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day." She also cited his recent statement that "some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

Loven then contends that "hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions." But she notes that Bush, in presenting opposing views in such a "straw man" way, sets himself up well to fire back, often appearing in defense of his viewpoint or as an underdog. "The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents," Loven writes about the "some" to which he refers. "In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position." She adds that "he typically then says he 'strongly disagrees' -- conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making." Loven then quotes others she describes as "experts in political speech" who supported her point that Bush's approach was misleading.

The article, however, offers no comment from Bush supporters or anyone on the president's staff, or gives any indication they were sought for comment. It also does not explore whether such straw-man tactics are common in political figures past or present, including Democrats; although one expert does say "all politicians try to get away with it to a certain extent." Loven, based in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment Wednesday as she was out of town, while AP Washington bureau chief Sandy Johnson did not return a request for comment.

AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said the piece was "a good way to explain to readers what rhetorical devices people, in this case the president, use to make their point." She also did not believe the article should have been labeled opinion or needed to include any White House comment. "This was not a piece that was critical, it was explanatory," Carroll said. In a statement, AP spokesman Jack Stokes wrote: "Jennifer Loven's story was one of an ongoing series of fact-checking stories that dig beyond the rhetoric. Editors tell us they want more of these stories." But Stokes did not comment on what kind of reaction the piece had sparked from readers or editors. On Monday, Washington Post blogger Dan Froomkin called Loven's piece "a bold departure for Associated Press," adding that Bush's straw-man arguments are "extensive and generally unchallenged."'s Media Action sent an e-mail to media outlets urging support for Loven, claiming "some reporters take notes o!
n what President Bush says and don't bother to research what is and isn't true. But the AP took a bold step this week and engaged in exactly the sort of strong watchdog journalism MoveOn Media Action members have been calling for."

Moveon also set up a Web page where readers could find an e-mail address to write to AP and send their support for Loven's piece. Reaction also came from Loven's critics, such as, the Minnesota-based site that has chronicled Loven going back to her coverage of the 2004 presidential election. Among its complaints is Loven's alleged conflict as the wife of Roger Ballentine, an environmental consultant who has worked in the Clinton Administration and has written for liberal outlets such as New Democrats Online. "Loven has written some astonishingly biased 'news' articles attacking President Bush," claimed this week. It then called the straw-man piece "a new low" that "masquerades as a straight news article, but reads like a DNC press release." It ends by saying "there must be someone at AP who wants the organization to be taken seriously as a news resource. If that's true, sacking Jennifer Loven would be a good first step." Carroll !
said Loven's marriage should not come in to play as any kind of conflict. "If she was covering something and her spouse was directly involved, that would be a problem," Carroll said.

At American Federalist Journal, which credits with finding the Loven piece for them, bloggers called the Loven analysis "a partisan hit piece" and "a prime example of egregious bias." The Web site also set up its own page seeking comment on Loven's work, but from critics. As of today, the page had received two comments.

Joe Strupp ( is a senior editor at E&P.

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