Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Bias for Headlines: Over the past few days, the Associated Press has been running a series of stories on the “connection” between Jack Abramoff, his client in the Mairanas, and Democratic Senator Harry Reid.

The first story ran under the headline “Reid Aided Abramoff Clients, Records Show” and related a series of meetings between Reid and Abramoff clients. Some—the Indian tribes in Reid’s home state of Nevada—had received his support and assistance for many years, long before Abramoff showed up. But there were troubling allegations that Reid met with representatives of the Northern Mariana Islands, who were lobbying against a bill that would have enforced the U.S. minimum wage there, and thus closed down a number of very profitable sweatshops.

The story spends a good deal of time on the contacts between Reid and the Marianas client, and the implication seems clear—especially since nowhere does the AP mention that Reid eventually voted for the bill and against the interests of Abramoff’s clients.

After the story was published, one of the lobbyists involved, Ron Platt, issued a statement, confirming the meetings and acknowledging that they had been ineffectual. The AP’s follow-up story ran under the headline “Lobbyist Confirms Talks with Reid’s Office.” Again, there was nothing in the story to inform readers that Reid had continued to oppose the lobbyist’s client even after taking all these meetings.

I am sure progressive bloggers will claim media bias, as would conservative bloggers if the subject of this story had been a Republican. Maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I think we are seeing, once again, the bias of the media toward a good story. In this case, the AP thought it had a juicy scoop. It’s not going to let that go just because the story proves the opposite of what the headline suggests.

Corporate clients often assume the media are out to get them. They need to remember that nine times out of 10, the media are out to get a good story. And often, they are not going to let either the facts or any notion of fairness, get in the way.

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