Sunday, February 27, 2005

# Posted 1:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE TRUTH ABOUT BUSH AND PUTIN: America's top journalists found it very tough to understand just what was happening last Thursday when George Bush and Vladimir Putin held a joint press conference in Bratislava. Just look at the headlines from the NYT and WaPo:
Bush and Putin Exhibit Tension Over Democracy

Bush and Putin Mute Differences, Latching Onto the Affirmative

Bush Gently Prods Putin on Democracy
Surprisingly, the first two headlines are both from the NYT and both from articles that ran on Friday. The first is from Elisabeth Bumiller and David Sanger, the second from CJ Chivers. It's as if they were covering different press conferences. Chivers reports that
The presidents focused their remarks after the meeting on personal trust and on commitments to fight terrorism and control the spread of weapons or materials terrorists might use. While raised, Western concerns about the decline in the development of democracy in Russia were muted after a period in which Mr. Bush heightened expectations with soaring language on the irresistible lure of freedom and democracy.
In other words, Bush failed to live up his word to promote democracy across the globe. Yet the very first sentence of the Bumiller/Sanger article was this:
President Bush expressed concern on Thursday night about Russia's commitment to democracy in a sometimes tense and awkward encounter with President Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Putin, at times visibly uncomfortable, refused to yield.
Compare that to the first sentence of the Post's front page article, which read:
President Bush urged President Vladimir Putin to reinvigorate Russia's fragile democracy Thursday and then accepted Putin's word when the former KGB colonel insisted he was not turning his country back toward totalitarianism.
It would be hard to come up with a more compelling demonstration of how much the author's perspective influences the contents of articles described as 'news' or 'news analysis'.

In general, I find that articles about speeches and press conferences reflect the author's perspective to a much greater degree than articles about physical events such as a bombing or airplane crash. When a journalist writes about a speech or press conference, his or her job basically consists of writing a summary that identifies the most important things that were said.

In theory, this shouldn't be hard. In practice, well, you see the results.

Naturally, if you really want to get a better sense of what happened at the Bush-Putin press conference, you should watch it for yourself if you can, or at least read the trasnscript afterward. (And notice the headline that the White House staff gave to the transcript: President and President Putin Discuss Strong-U.S. Russian Partnership. Talk about transparent spin...)

So what really did happen at the Bush-Putin press conference? That's the subject of my next post.
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