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Comments by YACCS
Saturday, May 29, 2004

How to read a newspaper story

Ok, all of you know how to read a newspaper story, but I think many of you don't know how they're constructed.

So I'll explain the process of news gathering, then we'll go through a Washington Post story.

First, the reporter goes to work, checks their e-mail, then calls their regular sources. In some cases, it's a press spokesman or PR person, sometimes a direct worker. Reporters usually have a few stories juggling at once.

So, they check what is knows as an assignment desk to see what the editors expect. Some days, they'll have to cover a conference or a meeting, some days they'll have to work their sources. Which means pester them.

Sources can be anyone, but in most of the stories discussed on the blogs, they're usually, mid and upper-level bureaucrats in Washington. Washington is a special case, and very different than journalism elsewhere. In any other place, being socially close to a source is discouraged, but in Washington access is everything. It is common to spend social time with the people you cover in Washington. Social status and proximity matter in Washington journalism. Not that most reporters get those invites, only those covering politics and the major federal agencies can play, Health reporters stay home.

Anonymous sources are used in stories for two reasons, to protect a source from retribution and to float a trial balloon a story about a controversal proposal.

Reporters are honored bound to protect their sources,even at the cost of going to jail. Which is why you won't see Robert Noval reveal his source in the Plame case. Traditions are not always comfortable or easy to live with, and this is one of them. Just because many people think Novak is wrong, the right to protect sources is a cornerstone of a free press.

A news story goes through several stages. The first is the reporter. In many cases, the original story looks nothing like what runs in the paper the next day. First, a reporter usually has to finish their story by a set time, called a deadline. This allows the story to go into editing at the copy desk. Daily newspaper journalism is divided into reporters and copy editors. Usually being on then desk is a quicker route to promotion, while being a reporter is the route to some public fame and book contracts.

Copy editors fact check each story and jmay substancially rewrite what is handed in. The fact is that people good at digging up facts can be mediocre writers. Which is why unedited copy NEVER leaves the newspaper. But if you ever see it, it can be stunningly bad. Copy editors clean up the writing, correct the spelling, add in facts and any extra material. They also work with the designers to decide what theb story will look like in the paper. They also write the headlines and generally clean things up.

The section editors read the stories, decide their placement, final length (copy can be trimmed from the bottom) and design. The senior editors for their section (each seperate section has a senior editor) then read the copy which goes into the paper. The senior staff of the newspaper may read a selection of the stories, but only intevene in the most serious stories. They also settle disputes over space and which stories run on the front page. At a large, national paper, like the Washington Post or LA Times, the city desk, national desk and foriegn desk all fight for space in the front of the paper. There is a limited number of inches in print and all these different desks want that space. The editors settle it. Local stories get cut for national and foreign news in these papers, even though they have seperate Metro/local sections.

However, reporters have to pitch their stories to their editors and many stories will never run because the editors are not interested in them. Weeks, months, even years will go by before some of these stories can run, if at all.

The most prestigious jobs on a newspaper is to cover the White House or to be a columnist. Second best is to be a foreign correspondent, then national reporter, then city hall, then the sate house. State capitals are usually boring. The best reporters in these jobs command the most space for their work.

Editorial is the name for all of the newspaper's news sections. Everything else is called business. The two sides of the newspaper are regarded as seperate entities, with limited influence on each other.

OK, now let's look at a story from today's Washington Post

Pick Appears to Catch Bush Administration Off Guard

By Mike Allen and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 29, 2004; Page A16

Mike Allen is a White House reporter, while Robin Wright is Judy Miller's rival and widely respected, unlike Miller, for her work on the Middle East, which she has covered for 20+ years. She's not seen as carrying water for any particu;ar cause

The Bush administration appeared to be caught off guard and somewhat confused yesterday after the Iraqi Governing Council nominated a physician with longtime CIA ties as the post-occupation prime minister. Officials in Washington scrambled to respond after the Iraqis took the public lead in a process that was supposed to be run by a U.N. envoy.

The Administration is at least one high powered source within the White House , Defense or State Department.

In a telephone conversation at 2:30 p.m., a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy sounded uncertain about whether Ayad Allawi would head Iraq's interim government after the United States transfers limited authority on June 30.

The confusion could be coming from Defense, because State is now running the show, It is likely that this is Powell's Deputy Richardf Armitage, who have long been unhappy with aspects of Iraq policy..

"We may or may not have heard the last word on the prime minister," the official said. "You have to put a lot of pieces together first."

This also hints at inteference and unhappiness with the CIA's boy Allawi stepping over his cousin Chalabi. Remember, the INC is DoD's baby, the INA, Allawi's group, is State's and the CIA's baby.

A senior administration official in Baghdad said that L. Paul Bremer, the civilian U.S. administrator, and Robert D. Blackwill, the U.S. presidential envoy to Iraq, knew about the impending selection on Thursday. But officials in Baghdad feared a leak and told few officials in Washington. Some members of Bush's war cabinet knew where the process was heading but were surprised by the timing of the council's decision.

This clearly points to defense as the source of this story, even nthoufh
The administration's statements were reserved because the United States did not want to appear to be driving the process, officials said, especially because of the country's past ties with Allawi.

The confusion extended to the United Nations in New York, where chief spokesman Fred Eckhard at first said that the U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, had been in the room for the selection by the U.S.-appointed council but then later corrected himself to say that Brahimi had not been there.

This indicates Kofi Annan, UN General Secretary, is not happy with the process. He sends a signal that the process is confused and the UN is not to blame for it

"It's not how we expected it to happen," Eckhard told Reuters.

By day's end, Brahimi and Bremer had both endorsed Allawi, and a senior U.S. official in Baghdad said without equivocation that Allawi will take office.

One of the working assumptions among senior foreign policy officials in the Bush administration had been that Iraq's new prime minister, the most important of the 30 jobs to be filled, would not come from the Governing Council. None of the 25 council members, all handpicked by the U.S.-led coalition, has rallied significant popular support, according to several public opinion surveys over the past few months.

State was left holding the bag

In an attempt to ensure that the new government would enjoy a degree of legitimacy in the eyes of Iraq's 25 million people, U.S. officials also thought they needed to find someone who would not be seen as a surrogate of the United States -- representing a "clean break from the occupation," as a diplomat from a coalition country said. Allawi is among those with close U.S. ties, including to the U.S. intelligence community.

State is saying they have nothing to do with this. This could be the result of a deal between DOD and CIA. But State is saying "he's not our boy."

During his speech Monday on the future of Iraq, Special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is now consulting with a broad spectrum of Iraqis to determine the composition of this interim government," Bush said in Carlisle, Pa. "The special envoy intends to put forward the names of interim government officials this week."

Seems someone jumped the line

Four hours after the council's vote, Bush said during a Rose Garden ceremony that the United States was prepared to "transfer complete and full sovereignty to an Iraqi government that will be picked by Mr. Brahimi of the United Nations."

That was not how the selection emerged. The Associated Press moved its bulletin from Baghdad at 8:26 a.m. Eastern time, saying: "The Governing Council has unanimously endorsed Iyad Allawi to become Iraq's new prime minister." Reuters followed at 8:41 a.m.: "IYAD ALLAWI CHOSEN AS IRAQI PRIME MINISTER -- AIDE TO ALLAWI."

Shortly after 10 a.m., White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters: "Mr. Brahimi is the one who will make the determinations about who the representatives are on the interim government."

The White House, caught flatfooted, after shifting towards State's view, was sandbagged. So now they blame the UN

Now, to the average reader, who doesn't know about sourcing or attribution, they may think this is another case of White House inepdtitude, but in reality, it's about another day in the war between State and DOD and State, the White House and the UN were caught flat. Now, ask yourself who is missing from this story?

Every news story has people who are included and people who are missing. Who is the one person who should have had a handle on this and seems not to? Condi Rice. The NSA was not quoted, nor were her people, unless it was to say "we had no clue". State is wildly unhappy about the choice, but sends the wrong signal in saying he can be replaced. The whole discomfort with this comes from State's mistrust of the IGC. This is why there are National Security Advisors. This story also suggests gameplaying by the GOPCPA, where little conservatives leak stories to their patrons.

Every story has missing people as well as those who speak, and the guess and it is a guess, that Condi and the White House were not informed of this until it was too late./

posted by Steve @ 1:01:00 AM

1:01:00 AM

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