May 8, 2014

Contemptible: AP Story Again Keeps Lois Lerner’s Name Out of Headline, Opening Grafs

Once again, as it did a month ago in two separate stories, the Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Press, left the name of Lois Lerner, the former IRS official who ran its section on tax-exempt organizations, out of its headline and opening paragraph. This time, for good measure, AP reporter Stephen Ohlemacher didn’t reveal Lerner’s name until Paragraph 3.

Before getting to Ohlemacher’s journalistic malpractice, let’s take a look at the how the Politico handled the same story of Congress holding Ms. Lerner in contempt yesterday, and at one example of how the AP itself covered the story of another controversial figure’s anticipated congressional appearance in the 1980s.

At the Poltico, Rachael Bade’s headline and first paragraph did what they were supposed to do, i.e., tell us who is involved (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Republicans hit IRS’ Lois Lerner with contempt

The House voted to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress, just three days before the anniversary of the day the former IRS official ignited the tea party targeting furor.

The Republican-led chamber voted largely along party lines 231-187 to place the woman who has become the face of the controversy in contempt for refusing to answer House Republicans’ questions. Six Democrats voted with Republicans.

“You don’t get to use a public hearing to tell the public and press your side of the story and then invoke the Fifth,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on the House floor. “That is not how the Fifth Amendment is meant to be used. It is a shield; Lois Lerner used it as a sword.”

Bade’s largely sound rendering of the story has a mention of Lerner’s name in the headline and in two of the first three paragraphs. Of course, the headline would have been more accurate if it said “The House” held Lerner in contempt, not only because six Democrats also supported the contempt vote, but also because the headline as written almost makes it look as if the Republican National Committee or some other exclusively Republican organization did the deed.

Now let’s go back to 1987, when a certain Reagan administration official was set to appear before Congress.

Based on what will be seen shortly in his Lerner coverage, here’s how I have to assume the AP’s Ohlemacher would have reported the story:

IRAN-CONTRA PANEL GRILLS EX-NSC OFFICIAL TODAY

A former National Security Council official breaks his public silence today, facing congressional questioning that is expected to home in quickly on whether President Reagan knew about the diversion of Iran arms-sale money to Nicaraguan contras.

This person, a former Marine Lieutenant Colonel, will speak publicly for the first time since the affair broke seven months ago, answering questions from chief House committee counsel John Nields, who also plans to introduce more than 200 documents as evidence during his daylong direct examination.

Oliver North is the man who made things happen from Iran to Central America,” Sen. Paul Trible, R-Va., who is to be one of the principal questioners at the hearing, said Monday, referring to the Lieutenant Colonel who was with the National Security Council. “He knows what happened. And, hopefully, he will tell us the full story.”

Of course, that’s not how the formerly professional organization known as the Associated Press wrote up the story. The real headline and opening paragraphs were very specific (full story from Proquest database saved here for future reference, fair use and discussion purposes):

APonOllieNorthJuly7th1987

Just as you would expect, Ollie North’s last name got into the headline and each of the first three paragraphs.

Now let’s look at Ohlemacher’s and AP’s disgraceful opening in its Lerner story as carried at ABC News and at the AP’s national site:

APonLernerContempt050714

As I noted a month ago, there’s a very specific reason this level of obfuscation is so important when a news organization has adopted defense of the Obama administration’s position and power as the reason for its existence:

(Deferring the mention of Lerner’s name) takes a lot of work, given that she is the object of potential criminal charges. Additionally, Ohlemacher’s stories also could and should have been more precise in describing the issue as the “tea party targeting controversy.”

The chances of clickthroughs on the headlines seen above on electronic devices are far lower than they would have been if Lerner’s name had been added to the headlines. Many electronic news digests also include the first sentence or so of the reports themselves. In each case above, the text is less interesting than it would be if Lerner’s name had been included.

This tactic also has an effect on AP’s subscribers, who also receive their content electronically. Previously, when a news report came in “over the wire” onto printed paper, the receiver would ordinarily read the entire report, make a judgment as to whether it should be published or broadcast locally, and would often edit it to ensure that key facts were presented. But now, as is the case with consumers, they make these judgments based on top-level headlines and opening paragraphs, often looking no further.

I suppose there’s a leftover argument that perhaps very few people know who Lois Lerner is. Obviously, if the IRS targeting story and its frightening implications for the survival of free speech and expression had received the coverage it deserved during the past year, that wouldn’t be the case. Again unless the mission is to protect the Obama administration at all costs instead of responsibly covering the news, that negligence is obviously no reason to keep shielding Lois Lerner’s name from national exposure.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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