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Burying the Lede


Over at TPM reporter Greg Sargent's The Horse's Mouth blog, the latest wrinkle in the Bush Syrian Travel Hypocrisy Scandal is that not only is Bush dissing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for meeting with Syrian officials even as three Republican congressmen are in Syria right now meeting with Syrian officials, but that Bush himself approved the GOP congressmen's trip!

While most of us who read the story tsk-tsked our national media for ignoring this, a commenter in the thread, owenz, wondered why Pelosi was seemingly silent on the issue:  "Obviously, the media has done a pretty pathetic job here. But what's with the slow response from Pelosi's office, the DNC, and Congressional Democrats?"

Trouble is, she DID respond.  She DID mention the presence of Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) and the other two Republican congressmen that are meeting with Assad in Syria.  I gleaned this from other news stories as well as from the televised press conference she held.

But the GOP/Media Complex buried the lede.

"Buried the lede? What the heck does that mean?"  Well, let me tell you…

Look at the AP story on this from April 3: The fact that Syria's president Hafez Assad met with Republican lawmakers — who the AP reporter, Zeina Karam (, chose not to name — is buried deep into the article, taking up two very short paragraphs of a 21-paragraph piece, instead of being put up top. The story is about three-quarters GOP spin, which the AP stenographer dutifully repeats for our consumption.

That's called "burying the lede" — and it violates the principle of the Pyramid Lead, the foundation of all modern journalistic writing worldwide.

The Pyramid Lead is the first thing a would-be journalist learns; it used to be taught in junior high school English classes as a fundamental principle of composition.  It is based on the fact that most newspaper readers tend to read the first few sentences of a story before going on to something else.  The idea is to summarize the key parts (or "lede") of a given story in one, maybe two sentences and lead off the story with those sentences:  The casual reader will have then got the gist, if not the details. 

Over and over and over again, the following principle is drummed into the young scrivener's head:  Never. Bury. The Lede. Ever.   Yet burying the lede is done time and time again in modern journalism, by its most prominent reporters, and it's not an accident.  Recently, Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars pointed out a particularly vile lede-burying committed by the ComPost (aka Washington Post) reporters Jonathan Weisman and Lyndsey Layton, as discovered by David Sirota.

Here is why deliberately burying the lede is so vile:  If someone accuses that AP reporter of carrying water for Bush, the reporter can fire back: "Hey, I mentioned the GOP guys in Syria, didn't I?"  Yeah, you did — but you buried that lede under mounds and mounds of Republican propaganda.  (Oh, and by the way:  Israel's acting president is praising Pelosi for her acting as a go-between with Syria and Israel, delivering messages from Israel's leaders to Assad.   But you won't see this in the US TV news.  Ever.)

Careful observers will recognize this as a variant of another CYA media maneuver — giving something that might irritate their masters only a miniscule amount of coverage, usually buried where the casual reader won't see it, as opposed to putting it above the fold on the front page.  How many times have we gone up to reporters asking "Why haven't you covered Topic Such-and-Such?" only to be told that it was indeed "covered" — but, as it turns out, only briefly, and it never made drive-time radio or the evening TV news, which is where most Americans still get their news nowadays?

While burying the lede is the tool of choice of dishonest and disingenuous Republican-fluffers in the media, many GOP/Media Complex members don't even bother to get that fancy.  They simply leave out the facts they don't like.  We see this in how the AP's Jennifer Loven — who Bush called on first in his April 3 press conference — brought up Pelosi's trip but ignored the GOP presence in Syria.  (Or how in a later story on Pelosi's trip, Zeina Karam doesn't even bother to mention the three GOP congressmen currently also meeting with Assad in Syria. )  Just another of the ways in which our media works to keep us misinformed.

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