Thursday, July 3, 2008

Learn To Recognize Bias Example 1 - Bias By Omission

Much has been made of John McCain's tulmutuous relationship with U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. Earlier this year, Cochran told the Boston Globe that, "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine."

Cochran, endorsed Mitt Romney in the primaries.

None of the above is new.

What is new and significant is an interview conducted by the Biloxi (Mississippi) Sun-Herald Newspaper. Cochran describes an incident 21 years ago, in which McCain throttled an associate of Sandinista dictator Daniel Ortega during a trip to Nicaragua.

"McCain was down at the end of the table and we were talking to the head of the guerilla group here at this end of the table and I don't know what attracted my attention," Cochran said. "But I saw some kind of quick movement at the bottom of the table and I looked down there and John had reached over and grabbed this guy by the shirt collar and had snatched him up like he was throwing him up out of the chair to tell him what he thought about him or whatever. I don't know what he was telling him but I thought, good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission. I don't know what had happened to provoke John but he obviously got mad at the guy and he just reached over there and snatched him."

McCain says it didn't happen. He told reporters at a press conference today during his trip to Colombia, "I had many, many meetings with the Sandinistas," McCain said. "I must say, I did not admire the Sandinistas much. But there was never anything of that nature. It just didn't happen."

But more to the point of this post: lower in the Sun-Herald interview, we get to the point of Cochran's reason for relating the 21-year-old story in an interview today.

According to Cochran spokeswoman Margaret McPhillips:

"I think Sen. Cochran went into as much detail yesterday as is necessary to make the point that, though Sen. McCain has had problems with his temper, he has overcome them.

"Though Sen. Cochran saw the incident he described to you, decades have passed since then and he wanted to make the point that over the years he has seen Sen. McCain mature into an individual who is not only spirited and tenacious but also thoughtful and levelheaded. As Sen. Cochran said yesterday, he believes Sen. McCain has developed into the best possible candidate for President."

Okay, so what does this have to do with the Associated Press? Well, the AP's summary of the Sun-Herald interview stated that,

"McCain sought to smooth things over with Cochran this year after the Mississippi senator said the idea of McCain as the GOP presidential nominee sent a chill down his spine."

The AP then concluded with a partial quote that misleads readers and clearly misinterprets Thad's remarks: "Asked about the incident, Cochran spokeswoman Margaret McPhillips told The Associated Press: 'I think his quotes in the Sun Herald speak on that issue'."

That's the WHOLE quote from Associated Press.

Read the Sun-Herald's quote of McPhillips again. Then read the truncated AP version.

Obviously, an astute reader will note that Cochran's "chill down his spine" statement is barely half a year old. One could surmise that Cochran's most recent statement and change of heart might be a political decision for party unity, especially with a faint endorsement in the last sentence calling McCain "the best possible candidate."

Reality? Politics? A little of both, perhaps? The same can certainly be said of the Obama-Hillary unity detente and all of the harsh charges she made against him in the primaries.

Regardless, that is NOT a decision for an AP reporter -- or any other reporter -- to make. News should be reported completely and in context so that readers can maker their own decisions.

Associated Press has clearly sinned by omission. And that violates every standard of journalistic ethics. It also destroys the reporter's credibility. It raises the question, what other things in which other articles have been left out?

The entire interview is at:

DISCLOSURE: After working as a top aide to Governor Bill Waller (Democrat, Mississippi), I served as Thad's press secretary when he was in the House of Representatives. I have not visited, spoken nor corresponded with Thad about this nor any other political issue in decades nor do I have any contact with the McCain or Obama camps.

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