Sunday, May 4, 2008

How to slant a lede

A CNN online reporter cheers for Obama:
Barack Obama has won the Guam Democratic caucuses by a margin of 7 votes.
With all of Guam’s precincts reporting, Obama won 2,264 votes (50.1 percent) to 2,257 votes (49.9 percent) for Hillary Clinton, his sole remaining rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Obama led the vote count throughout the day and had a 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent advantage over Clinton by late afternoon. Clinton then won the sole remaining precinct — Guam’s largest village of Dededo — by a 61.9 percent to 38.1 percent margin, which brought her to within 7 votes of Obama in the overall tally.
Polls closed at 6 a.m. eastern time Saturday, but vote counting on the U.S. territory took over 13 hours to finalize.
Obama and Clinton will split the U.S. territory's four pledged delegate votes evenly, with two apiece.
The win gives Obama his 31st victory of the campaign, including his win in the Texas caucuses in March. Clinton has won 16 contests, including the Texas primary.
The battle for the Democratic nomination next heads to Indiana and North Carolina, which both will hold primaries on Tuesday.
That story is a total Obama pep rally:
  • Obama has the first paragraph all to himself.
  • The article twice states that "Obama won" before introducing Clinton.
  • The reference to Hillary as Obama's "sole remaining rival" suggests an inordinate degree of inequality between the two candidates, as if Clinton were an afterthought.
  • It's not until the fifth paragraph that the reader learns that, in terms of delegates -- the only thing that really matters in a primary -- Guam was a tie, rendering Obama's 0.1% "win" moot.
  • The sixth paragraph reads like it was lifted from an Obama press release, citing a measure that depicts him as an overwhelming winner. In fact, Clinton actually has won more popular votes (including Fla. & Mich.) while Obama's lead in pledged delegates is just 154 out of 2,849 delegates selected to date.
I suspect that a large part of the problem with this CNN article is that the writer is incompetent. The third paragraph is a classic rookie mistake, depicting the vote count as if it were a contest in its own right, so that the late returns from Dededo are depicted as some sort of comeback for Clinton. The people in Dededo voted at the same time as everyone else on Guam; it was only the result of their vote that was reported late. Thus the inference of a chronological sequence -- "Obama led ... Clinton then won ..." -- is false.

It's possible to slant a story without the slant being so glaringly obvious, but an incompetent reporter can't pull it off. And it's always better (and easier) just to report the freaking news -- it's just a straight-up report about the vote on Guam, for crying out loud -- and let the campaign spinners do their own job.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin's readers were "on pins and needles" awaiting the outcome in Guam.

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