Saturday, May 29, 2004

# Posted 8:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A TALE OF TWO KERRYS: Both the WaPo and NYT have put up detailed summaries of Kerry's recent remarks about foreign policy. The headlines are all that you need to tell the difference between the two papers perspectives. Since noon, the top story on the WaPo website has been "Kerry: Security Trumps Promoting Democracy". On the NYT homepage, the third bullet point beneath a story about Iraq has a link entitled "Kerry Faults Bush on Security Issues". (NB: These are the headlines on the front page of the WaPo and NYT, respectively. The URLs for the articles have slightly different ones.)

So, what did Kerry actually say? The first sentence in the WaPo account reads:
Sen. John F. Kerry indicated that as president he would play down the promotion of democracy as a leading goal in dealing with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China and Russia, instead focusing on other objectives that he said are more central to the United States' security.
Not what I'd like to hear, but not an unreasonable position either. After all, how much has Bush done for democracy in any of those countries? One might even say that the President's lofty rhetoric and minimal follow-through have reinforced certain dictators' suspicions that the US only cares about Al Qaeda.

Of course, just because Kerry's position is reasonable doesn't mean the NYT should've ignored it. The NYT piece is almost entirely about Kerry's comments on North Korea and his belief that the Bush administration is excessively preoccupied with Iraq.

Now, it's probably worth mentioning that a WaPo correspondent conducted the interview with Kerry. Thus, that paper has an incentive to turn it into big news while the NYT has an incentive to play it down. Still, I would've appreciated at least one sentence describing Kerry's demotion of democracy to a secondary United States objective.

While it's sort of inevitable that different papers provide different accounts of the same event, the difference here seems to have ideological connotations. After all, it was just three days ago that a NYT news analysis column declared that Kerry and Bush had almost identical positions on Iraq -- totally disregarding Kerry's demotion of democracy to a secondary objective there.

Of course, one could turn this whole analysis around and say that the WaPo is promoting its own agenda which just happens to resemble the one that we favor here on OxBlog. But given that one of the unspoken principles of campaign coverage is that journalists have an obligation to point out significant differences between the candidates, it's hard to understand how the Times could ignore remarks made by Kerry that are so completely at odd with the positions taken by Bush.
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