Burying the Lead

Burying the Lead

Burying the Lead

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 29 1997 6:38 AM

Burying the Lead

At USA Today the top story is that some safety experts are concerned that a new soon-to-be-mandatory emissions control device could start fires in crashes. At the New York Times the lead is that California's ban on public program racial preferences goes into effect, and it's accompanied by a big picture of a protest march organized by Jesse Jackson proceeding across the Golden Gate Bridge. At the Washington Post it's that many top jobs in the Clinton administration remain unfilled. And the Los Angeles Times leads with developments in Bosnia.

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A cardinal sin of news reporting is downplaying the real news of a story--this is known as "burying the lead" and once upon a time it was considered an even bigger disaster for a journalist than having a kid not get into Sidwell Friends. But today not one, but two papers do it, and with the same story, no less. The LAT's lead is that senior U.S. officials including former special envoy for Bosnia, Richard Holbrooke, have supported using NATO troops to defend the president of Bosnia's Serb republic, Biljana Plavsic, if hard-liners tried to overthrow her. Then the piece goes on to say that NATO forces have helped Plavsic consolidate her control over her country's police and broadcast media and that Thursday, while continuing to conduct that campaign, they got into a violent confrontation with Bosnian Serb demonstrators. But the story delays the news that two U.S. soldiers were wounded in the melee until after the "jump"--the continuation of the story on an inside page. But wait!--there is another Bosnia story on the LAT front, near the lead, in column six, just a little lower down. Yet its headline, "US Soldiers Clash with Irate Bosnian Serbs," doesn't mention the U.S. casualties, and the piece itself doesn't get to them until the third paragraph. The WP downplays the casualties as well, running its Bosnia story at the bottom of the front page, omitting mention of them in its headline--"Bosnian Serb's Backers Stone American Troops"--and not getting to them in the piece until the seventh paragraph. (Headline writers, please note: not mentioning the known outcome is like saying "Yankees Played Red Sox Yesterday.") The NYT plays the story lower on its front page, but gets the casualties into the headline: "2 G.I.'s Are Hurt Confronting Pro-Karadzic Bosnian Serbs."

The really big story on the USAT front is the revelation that the provision in the new budget bill that allows tobacco companies to reduce their liability in smoking-related lawsuits by $50 billion was written by.the tobacco companies. "The industry wrote it and submitted it, and we just used their language,'' is what Kenneth Kies, staff director of the Joint Committee on Taxation, is quoted as saying.

Anthony Lewis' Times column is another in his recent series of pieces excoriating the INS. He tells the story of a German women who falls in love with and marries an American while on a visitor's visa and after getting some bad advice from the INS leaves the country while her application for a permanent visa is still pending. The result? She ends up in prison for eight days and then is deported. So far the couple has burned up $10,000 in legal fees over this, and the husband had to abandon his business here to rejoin his wife. "Is anyone in our Government," wonders Lewis, "ready to call our tin-pot immigration dictators to account?

And right next to that piece is an op-ed by Washington-based public ethics maven Charles Lewis. For those inclined to cut Mike Espy some slack because he's only charged with taking $35,000 worth of stuff, Lewis makes the point that the poultry and processing workers Espy was once supposed to be looking out for make, on average, $16,374 a year.