Sunday, November 29, 2015

Today in attribution

What we do with attribution -- when we insist on it, when we ignore it, how and why the defense "claims" while the prosecution "notes" -- says a lot about how we want information to be interpreted. Hence the added scare quotes for "comfirm" when it moves from the lede to the blurb at the top of the home page:

The head of the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic where a gunman killed three people and injured nine others said in a statement Saturday that the man held anti-abortion views.

“We are learning that eyewitnesses confirm that the man who will be charged with the tragic and senseless shooting that resulted in the deaths of three people and injures to nine others at Planned Parenthood’s health center in Colorado Springs was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountain CEO Vicki Cowart said.


Around here, we're all about more attribution rather than less, so I'd like to knwo how "we" are learning all this stuff that eyewitnesses are allegedly confirming. But the fourth graf does help a bit:

A law enforcement official also told the Associated Press that Richard Lewis Dear, 57, made a “no more baby parts” remark following his arrest in the deadly rampage Friday. The official told AP he couldn’t elaborate about the comment and spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.

I wonder whether the official told the AP "he" couldn't elaborate or if that's a Fox improvement. When a story avoids gendered pronouns that clunkily ("the law enforcement official who recounted Dear's statement spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation" is how a current AP version goes), there's often a reason. Either way, it seems that there might be room for even a very cautious editor to hang the hed on something other than just Planned Parenthood. The editor might even consult previous top-of-the-homepage reports on (potentially) politically motivated violence:


 I think that's kind of what Walter Lippmann was getting at back in 1922: "For the most part, we do not first see and then define, we define first and then see."

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