15 paragraphs between allegation and response

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Today's Washington Post article "McCain Camp Hits Obama On More Than One Front" by Jonathan Weisman and Peter Slevin is a textbook example of how news organizations privilege bogus attacks.

In the first paragraph, Weisman and Slevin report that McCain's camp accused Obama of "a sexist smear." The fourth paragraph contains two more mentions of Obama's alleged "sexist attacks" and "alleged sexism." Paragraphs 5 and 6 consist of quotes of Republican members of congress accusing Obama of sexism. The 7th paragraph mentions a McCain "Internet ad charging that the Democrat had referred to Palin as a pig." Paragraphs 9 and 10 report that "McCain allies" think their attacks are working.

In paragraph 11, we are finally told that "Obama aides say the assaults will not work, arguing that all of the accusations against him are a reach, if not fabrications. The sexism allegation stemmed from a comment Obama made in Virginia during a talk in which he did not mention Palin."

Eleven paragraphs in, the Weisman and Slevin finally get around to telling us that the Obama campaign says the accusations are fabrications. Eleven paragraphs into the article, after five different repetitions of the attack on Obama for being "sexist," the Washington Post finally gets around to telling readers that the accusations referred to comments in which Obama didn't even mention Palin.

Also in the first paragraph, Weisman and Slevin report that McCain's campaign said Obama "favored sex education for kindergartners" -- a charge they tell us about again in the seventh paragraph. In paragraph 15 (on the second page of the Web version of the article), Weisman and Slevin finally get around to the other side of the story:

The sex education ad referred to legislation Obama voted for -- but did not sponsor -- in the Illinois Senate that allowed school boards to develop "age-appropriate" sex education courses at all levels. Kindergarten teachers were given the approval to teach about appropriate and inappropriate touching to combat molestation.

Readers shouldn't have to wait fifteen paragraphs to find a response to a misleading attack reported in the lede.

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