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NY Times regurgitates WH press release on front page

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A college newspaper can do better than this.

An article that got front-page treatment on the New York Times website Monday morning, “Obama Plans to Unveil His Agenda for Economy,” purported to be a preview of President Obama’s agenda for the coming week, but is nothing more than a barely – nauseatingly – rewritten version of a news release put out Sunday by White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

obamanytimesAnd the journalistic shame of it is, Pfeiffer’s is  the more restrained of the two.

Here’s how he starts:

“Hey everyone,

“I don’t usually write emails like this, and we don’t usually send messages like this to this list. But I just finished reading the draft of a speech the President plans to deliver on Wednesday, and I want to explain why it’s one worth checking out.”

Fair enough. He’s a White House senior adviser. He writes a chummy news release to the 10,000 or so best friends on his email blast list because he wants to draw attention to the president’s next speech. No harm, no foul. It’s what he’s paid for.

Here’s how The Times starts:

“With major battles looming in the fall over the federal budget and the debt ceiling, President Obama is trying to regain the initiative, embarking on a campaign-style tour of the Midwest this week to lay out his agenda for reinvigorating the nation’s economy, administration officials said Sunday.”

Portentous? A little. President Obama is preparing for “major battles” that are “looming.” He’s “embarking on a campaign-style tour” to lay out a plan for “reinvigorating” the economy. And then the obligatory “administration officials said.” (They mean to say, “Dan Pfeiffer said in an email Sunday.”)

The rest of the Times’ piece is the same, elaborating on Pfeiffer’s email, adding more portentous garbage – describing a speech venue as “laden with symbolism” when it’s clearly not – and an occasional “administration officials said” when it means “Dan Pfeiffer said in an email released Sunday.”

(Even funnier, the article actually does mention Pfeiffer by name a couple of times, implying that the “administration officials” and Pfeiffer are not one and the same person.)

Now, there is absolutely nothing new about newspaper stories being built around news releases. That’s why news releases exist. (Politico, for instance, did five paragraphs based on the same news release, attributed it all to Pfeiffer, and skipped the “laden with symbolism” stuff.)

And there’s nothing new about news stories being ginned up out of pretty thin gruel on Sunday afternoons in July.

But here’s the thing. When newspapers rewrite news releases, the general rule is to take out the breathless poetry that publicists put in. To tone down the heroics pr flacks dream up. At the  New York Times, it’s just the opposite. Here, the NYT says, thanks for the release, Mr. Pfeiffer, but it’s not portentous enough. Let us add some bloated verbiage to make the president look even more important to our liberal readers.

It’s also considered to be good form to at least try to make a real story out of a news release re-write, generally by making a pro forma phone call to the opposing camp to get a reaction. That might be asking too much of the Times, to have the phone number of a reputable Republican on hand for comment on a Sunday afternoon, but they could at least have called some Occupy spokesman or some other lib to say Obama won’t go far enough in his leftist fantasies.

When the “newspaper of record” does nothing more than regurgitate, with some exaggerations added, spoon-fed administration news releases onto its front page (online edition anyway — the “story” got moved inside in the print edition with a promo on the front), and has the cheek to attribute it to “administration sources,” it explains a lot about the state of journalism in this country – and the very unhealthy relationship a supposedly independent media has with this liberal Democratic White House.

Seriously, a college newspaper can do better than this.

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