Patterico's Pontifications


Those Three Deceptive Dots . . .

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 12:00 am

An ellipsis is a dangerous thing in the hands of L.A. Times reporter Richard Serrano.

In his coverage of Kyle Sampson’s testimony, he uses an ellipsis in quoting Sampson’s prepared remarks:

Noting that “the distinction between ‘political’ and ‘performance-related’ reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial,” Sampson said: “A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective … is unsuccessful.”

This sounds an awful lot like Sampson is confirming the worst charges of the Democrats — that the Administration sought to remove U.S. Attorneys who didn’t fashion political prosecutions in a manner pleasing to Washington politicians.

Except . . . what’s in the ellipsis? Let’s go to the source:

Presidential appointees are judged not only on their professional skills but also their management abilities, their relationships with law enforcement and other governmental leaders, and their support for the priorities of the President and the Attorney General.

. . . .

Thus, the distinction between “political” and “performance-related” reasons for removing a United States Attorneys is, in my view, largely artificial. A U.S. Attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective, either because he or she has alienated the leadership of the Department in Washington or cannot work constructively with law enforcement or other governmental constituencies in the district important to effective leadership of the office, is unsuccessful.

The L.A. Times‘s Serrano uses an ellipsis to remove the bolded passage, which explains that “unsuccessful from a political perspective” doesn’t mean “prosecutes too many Republicans and not enough Democrats,” but instead means “refuses to implement Administration priorities, and alienates local law enforcement and home Senators.”

I know, I know. They have to cut out something. But somehow, the part they cut out is always the part that helps the Administration case.

This is nothing new. In an earlier post, I showed that a story authored by Serrano used ellipses to distort a Kyle Sampson memo. Sampson’s memo described strong and weak U.S. Attorneys in this way:

bold = Recommend retaining; strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General.
strikeout = Recommend removing: weak U.S. Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.

Seeking to emphasize the political motivations of the Administration, Serrano removed the bolded parts, which showed that the Administration cared about good results and management, and left in the portions dealing with loyalty. Serrano quoted Sampson as recommending the retention of “strong U.S. attorneys who have … exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general.” The article further quoted Sampson as recommending “removing weak U.S. Attorneys who have … chafed against Administration initiatives.”

There is a pattern here, and it isn’t pretty.

UPDATE: Interesting. The story has now been edited to remove the above passage. It now reads like this:

Sampson denied that any of the firings was done for improper reasons, but he said that politics in the broadest sense was a legitimate reason for replacing U.S. attorneys, who are appointed by the president.

It still doesn’t explain what Sampson meant by “politics in the broadest sense” — but the misleading ellipsis is gone. The deceptive ellipsis apparently didn’t make it past the editors . . . this time.

But the episode is very revealing about how the reporters want to portray things. For that reason, I’m glad I caught the initial version.

14 Responses to “Those Three Deceptive Dots . . .”

  1. As a former reporter (yep, there goes my credibility), I must say that in Serrano’s defense (or possible defense), that that redaction could have been done by his editors.

    Although your larger point – that the editing always seems to favor an anti-Administration line – is the more important one.

    Whether it was done by the editors or the reporter, there’s a disturbing pattern apparent in the coverage of this story (among others). They’ve apparently got a preconceived view of the story and are massaging the facts to fit that template.

    Deliberate or sub-conscious?

    Ask Kreskin.

    SMGalbraith (9911e0)

  2. The Baltimore Sun put LAT reporters Schmidt’s and Simon’s piece Prosecutors fired for not toeing line, ex-aide says on page one (IIRC) of the 3/29/07 paper.

    Paragraph four (before the break) reads

    “The distinction between ‘political’ and ‘performance-related’ reasons for removing a United States attorney, is, in my view, largely artificial,” Sampson says, noting that a U.S. attorney who falls down on the job from a political perspective is “unsuccessful.”

    Mirroring the point Patterico makes in this post.

    But paragraph 20 of 22 — after the jump, of course — is the Sampson quote that Serrano replaced with three dots.

    Happily and against expectations, my hometown paper isn’t leading the race to the bottom this time.

    AMac (c822c9)

  3. I didn’t see that in the version I saw, but maybe I overlooked it. In my view that’s even worse. If there was space for the whole quote anywhere in the article, why use an ellipsis in the first iteration, unless the intent is to mislead?

    Patterico (434a5e)

  4. Great. They removed the misleading ellipsis, which was easy to rebut, and said the same thing without the ellipsis, which is harder to rebut.

    Patterico, maybe you are just teaching the reporters of the L.A. Times to appear more objective (and to believe they are more objective) without the actual objectivity.


    Wince and Nod (931cf0)

  5. Thus the distinction between “political” and “performance-related” reasons for removing a United States Attorneys is, in my view, largely artificial
    The DOJ is now so politicized that a USA can be canned for not being as politicized as his superiors.

    The ellipsis is more appropriate for an op-ed then straight reporting. But why is this post is about the LAT and not the testimony itself? Because the testimony was pretty damning.
    As is the history of politicizing all aspects of government by this administration.

    one for you, since it will be up soon:
    “The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that a federal grand jury indicted the former state Senate president pro tem and three others on counts of mail fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.”

    and one for me

    “Ms. MacDonald, whose job is to oversee policy decisions on endangered species and other wildlife, sent internal agency documents to industry lobbyists (e.g. she twice sent “internal Environmental Protection Agency documents — one involving water quality management — to individuals whose e-mail addresses ended in ‘,”) and generally ran roughshod over agency scientists.”

    AF (c319c8)

  6. “one for you.” Bad choice. As JMM says

    This is a good example of one of the many reasons why political appointees and members of Congress shouldn’t start trying to game criminal indictments. Once you start mucking around, politicizing the process, it’s very hard to restore any faith that indictments aren’t being used as proxies for spin and electioneering. Having said that, there’s plenty of wrongdoing in this scandal for which we have plenty of evidence. I’ll assume this is on the level until I see evidence that suggests otherwise.

    AF (c319c8)

  7. 3 in a row for me:
    Obviously I misssed Pat’s previous posts on Sampson.

    Glibness retracted

    AF (c319c8)

  8. what’s in the ellipsis?

    Thanks Pat. When I first read this a few days ago alarm bells went immediately off -what’s in the ellipsis?

    The media’s lame attempts at “framing” are so obvious and they really should be embarrassed. But con artists rarely ever are.

    Topsecretk9 (54dc21)

  9. Nice. Well, not nice. But quite brazen of them.

    David N. Scott (71e316)

  10. Perhaps the LAT should include a disclaimer: “Warning: Do Not Administer Without Patterico”.

    Bradley J. Fikes (4b350d)

  11. The LA Times being deliberately dishonest to promote an agenda? The shock. (heavy sarcasm)

    Hard Right (7900e3)

  12. Actually, much of it depends on what is and is not meant by alienation, “working constructively,” etc.

    Also, the notion of the government having “constituencies” ought to bring to mind some questions.

    Grotius (241283)

  13. Ah tolko by nadolgo ne proshatas. Kazimiera Raimondas.

    Kazimiera Raimondas (c3b2aa)

  14. Ya stanu toli plachem to li penje. Oluwafunmilayo Kalev.

    Oluwafunmilayo Kalev (09eb8f)

Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.0783 secs.