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June 18, 2007
How to slant the news (a continuing series - updated)
The New York Times, along with most of the press establishment of Europe and America, did not like Nikolas Sarkozy's victory in France's presidential election. It was bad enough that he won handily over a pretty female socialist. But yesterday's elections confirming the center-right Union for a Popular Majority Party with a majority of the National Assembly was if anything worse, confirming him in power and gviing the wherewithal for serious reform. What is a leftist press to do?
Why, play the expectations game, of course. Thus, we saw this early report Sunday afternoon from the Times:
Sarkozy's Party Wins Smaller Majority Than Expected in French Assembly
The conservative party of President Nicolas Sarkozy won a solid victory in French parliamentary elections on Sunday, but it failed to secure the rout of the left that polls had predicted. In a sign that the left is still alive in France, three polling institutes estimated late Sunday night that Mr. Sarkozy's governing Union for a Popular Movement would win between 314 to 328 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament. The polling groups projected that the Socialists would win between 206 to 212 seats. So the headline and lede are all about the failure of Sarkozy to secure the "expected" victory.
The Washington Post had no trouble being straightforward in headlining an AP dispatch:
Several paragraphs later in the NYT's account, we learn that it was pretty impressive victory after all:
Still, the overall win by Mr. Sarkozy's center-right party marked the first time in 29 years that a governing party has retained its majority in the lower house of Parliament.
This could be serious:
Certainly, the outcome gives Mr. Sarkozy the mandate to push through his ambitious program to cut taxes, reinvigorate the economy, ease some labor restrictions, slash unemployment, impose curbs on immigration and make France more competitive globally. But psychologically, the Sarkozy government could lose some of its momentum.
The French Parliament, consisting of a National Assembly and a largely symbolic Senate, does not enjoy nearly the same authority as does the American Congress in serving as a counterweight to the presidency. In the run-up to the vote, the Socialists and other parties of the left warned that a consolidation of power behind Mr. Sarkozy would be potentially dangerous for democracy in France.
Several hours later, a second story by the same correspondent appeared with less spin. Perhaps someone at the Times realized how ridiculous it looked trying to make a victory into a defeat.
French Conservatives Win;Socialists Make Gains
PARIS, Monday, June 18 - The conservative party of President Nicolas Sarkozy won a solid victory in parliamentary elections on Sunday, but in a surprise, it failed to trounce the opposition on the left the way both the polls and politicians had predicted.
And we move on to more titillating news:
It is a lucky thing that that all the Hollywood celebs who vowed to move to France if Bush won re-election were just faking it. They would hate the direction France has taken.
There was also high drama of a more personal sort. Ségolène Royal, the defeated Socialist candidate for president, and François Hollande, the father of their four children and the leader of the Socialist Party, have separated, according to a book to be published next Wednesday.
"I asked François Hollande to leave our home, to pursue his love interest, which is now laid bare in books and newspapers, on his own," she is quoted as saying, adding, "I wished him happiness."
In the book, "Behind the Scenes of Defeat," Ms. Royal said that she and Mr. Hollande "remain on good terms." She also said that she will seek to replace Mr. Hollande as leader of the party.
Update: Bookworm also noticed some spin today at the NYT, in a report about a NATO air strike in Afghanistan that killed seven children, in which the NY Times kept the focus on the dead children.
...we know how a New York Times article is structured: Bury the major story in the last part of the article. Open with an attack on America. And slowly reveal that both the headline and lead paragraphs are misleading. That's great journalism.
Then she came across a report
of the same event as done by the UK Telegraph
The Telegraph definitely gets the shock headline about the seven dead children (in the "if it bleeds, it leads" hierarchy, nothing leads better than bleeding children), but it quickly follows that grabbing fact with the other newsworthy part of the story: militants were hiding amongst children. The headline readers and the skimmers will understand the heart of the issue, which isn't that children die, but that militants ensure that children die.
The structural differences are enormous, because the Telegraph story opens with and keeps its focus on the fact that the Taliban are using children as shields, a strategy that is entirely consistent with their attacks upon civilians as part of the way in which they wage war. The Times is more interested in portraying the US in a negative light.