Monday, March 05, 2007

DEPT. OF EXEGESIS Compare these two sentences from Sunday's NYT whitewash of the Bush administration's US attorneys purge.

Sentence 1:

The ouster of Mr. Bogden and seven other United States attorneys has set off a furor in Washington that took the Bush administration by surprise.
Sentence 2:
Democrats have charged that the mass firing is a political purge, intended to squelch corruption investigations or install less independent-minded successors.
In sentence 1 the reporters ascribe a mental state--surprise--to the Bushies. But the article never explains how the reporters arrived at this wording; it never explains why the Bushies deserve to be seen as genuinely surprised rather than as simply professing to be surprised.

(That the "surprised" construction plays into the Bush administration's "nothing-to-see-here" talking point is, I'm sure, pure coincidence.)

The approach when it comes to administration opponents, in sentence 2, is different: The arguments of Democrats are summarized. No mental states are ascribed. The reporters stick to publicly verifiable facts rather than reading the minds of their sources in a way that serves one side of a political debate at the expense of the other.

So why the two different approaches? Why ascribe mental states to sources in the first place? Is there one reporting standard for the Bushies and another for everyone else?

Reporters David Johnston, Eric Lipton and William Yardley aren't dumb. They know what they're doing.

The question is, why are they doing it?

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.