John Leo

Potorti is a founder of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, identified by reporters as "an advocacy group," "a victims families group" or "one of the families organizations." More accurately, Peaceful Tomorrows is the anti-war segment of the victims' families movement, long hostile to Bush policies and affiliated with, a web-based organization of the left that wants Bush censured and then defeated. Reporters kept quoting leaders of Peaceful Tomorrows, without mentioning their leftward push or their small membership (they claim 120 members, out of a population of victims' family members that surely tops 10,000).

Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, denounced the ads in nearly every story. Most reports pointed out that his union had endorsed John Kerry. But I saw no report mentioning that Schaitberger is national co-chair of the Kerry for President committee and therefore the most important non-politician in the Kerry leadership. Quoting Schaitberger on Bush's ads is like quoting Karl Rove as a detached analyst of Hillary Clinton. Amazingly, the AP story left the impression that Schaitberger resented the Bush ad because money for first-responders had been cut. According to the AP report, "He said his union is politically independent even though it endorsed Kerry and has donated money to Republicans." Good thing the reporter mentioned this evenhandedness. Otherwise readers might have concluded that Schaitberger's highly abusive remarks about the Bush ads were coming from some sort of partisan.

We ought to have some discussion of how these stories were constructed, why reporters didn't go beyond the first wall of savvy and activist family members, and why so many of the small decisions reporters made on deadline seemed to go so heavily in one political direction. It would also be nice to learn why reporters think that three or four people constitute a storm. Once the story line was set, of course, there was a storm. But some of us would like an ombudsman or two to discuss where the storm arose. Was it in the outside world or in the newsroom?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

Be the first to read John Leo's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.