December 03, 2005

How many important facts can you leave out of a news story?

Damn near all of them, if you're the AP and CNN.

Online, CNN has been running an AP story about how New Jersey governor-elect Jon Corzine may have decided to appoint state senator Nia Gill to fill out his unexpired term in the US Senate when he moves from Washington to Trenton.

CNN screen shot

Screen shot from

As you can see from the headline and photo, Gill is both black and a woman — both of which are significant reasons to appoint a person to the US Senate, given how overwhelmingly white and male that body is compared to the US population as a whole.

However, being just black and a woman shouldn't in itself be a reason to get the job, we'd think. And when we read the story to find out about Gill's other qualifications, what we discover is that she's a lawyer — and if we read way down to the very bottom of the story, we also find out that she served in the New Jersey House. Not irrelevant qualifications, but certainly far from a good picture of Gill's experience, wouldn't you say?

On the other hand, the AP story does go to the trouble to tell us the following, not too far from the top:

Political analysts say that by choosing Gill, Corzine would be seen as rewarding a faithful base that turned out for him on Election Day — and possibly sending a signal about his higher political aspirations.

So, as far as the AP bothers to tell us, Gill's main qualifications for being a senator are that her appointment would pay off one of Corzine's political debts, and maybe give him a leg up if he wants to run for president. Right in line with the concept of 'reverse discrimination,' the story is implicitly telling us that Gill will get the job because she's black — not because she's qualified.

What's really annoying here is that it would have taken no time at all to come up with a good list of reasons why Gill is qualified for the US Senate. [It took us about 30 seconds of Googling.] Here are just a few of them:

  • Gill was Democratic Whip for three of the four terms she served in the New Jersey House.
  • In 1997, she helped lead the opposition to an attempt to override the governor's veto of a law that would have banned third trimester abortions [so called 'partial birth abortion].
  • She was a sponsor of a recently enacted state law that bars public officals from depriving anyone of their civil rights, including 'racial profiling' done by law enforcement.
  • Gill sponsored a bill providing a $3000 tax deduction for families that provide home care to an elderly family member, and another to abolish the state's death penalty.
  • She currently serves on the state senate's Judiciary Committee, which — as with the US Senate — is one of the body's most powerful committees.

From that list, it's pretty obvious that Gill has excellent credentials as a progressive legislator and — from her service as House minority whip and on the Senate Judiciary committee — is highly regarded by her Democratic colleagues in the legislature. And we figured all of this out from info at the very first place we looked.

But the AP didn't see fit to look into Gill's background. Or, if they did look, they didn't think it important enough to include any of it in their story. And no flags went up when the CNN editor saw the story either — they just passed it on without adding any information about Gill's background. Instead, both AP and CNN were content to leave readers with the impression that, if Gill is appointed to the US Senate, the only thing involved is a political payoff that hinged on her ethnicity.

We have difficulty believing that this story would have looked the same had Nia Gill, a black woman, been Neil Gill, a white man.

Can we say 'racism'?

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald for pointing us to the CNN story. His excellent post on this topic can be found here.

[Post changed to correct misattribution to CNN only.]

Posted by Magpie at December 3, 2005 12:03 AM | US Politics | Technorati links |

I read the CNN piece and thought it was pretty snarky, as mainstream news goes. Racism is a pervasive thing, especially when news stories speculate based on gender and color.

What if they had written this as if the person were white and male? Well, then the person's gender or color would never have been mentioned, would it?

Posted by: Scorpio at December 3, 2005 08:33 AM

CNN snagged the story from Associated Press, if you'll look at the bottom of the article.

I think AP and CNN deserve emails asking if they're lazy, ignorant or racist, don't you?

Posted by: palamedes at December 3, 2005 10:01 AM

You have to bear in mind that CNN has a situational obligation to Bu$hCo to always preesent any news regarding a Democrat in a negative manner. Thus, when discussing the estimated 71 cases of Republican crime currently under investigation, or on trial across the nation, it's required to mention that 20 odd years ago a Democrat who was Speaker of the House, had to resign his post because he put royalties from a book he wrote into the wrong bank account. This proves that politics is corrupt, and the Democrats are just as evil and depraved as the Republicans.

Posted by: Lurch at December 3, 2005 11:56 AM

On NPR this morning, Scott Simon was talking with Daniel Schorr. Daniel quipped that one friend of his remarked the Republican scandals are money scandals and Democratic scandals are sex scandals. Simon retorted that he could remember lots of Democratic money scandals and couldn't recall any Republican sex scandals. What a jerk. Republican sex scandals: does anyone remember that during the Clinton Impeachment trials Henry Hyde was outed for his "youthful indiscretions" partaken when he was in his youthful 40s or that Newt Gingrich was having an affair with his own intern? I guess when you want to smear the Democrats you claim their money scandals are just as bad as this series of K-Street scandals. Too bad Scott Simon doesn't see that some historians think this scandal might be bigger than the Teapot Dome scandal and ranks up in the stratosphere of big money scandals. And to think I once thought Scott Simon was a fair and intelligent newscaster.

Posted by: Mary at December 3, 2005 12:34 PM

thanks, palamedes, for correcting my attribution. it was sloppy of me to get it wrong, and pleading that i've seen CNN do this sort of thing before is no defense for not paying attention.

Posted by: magpie at December 3, 2005 02:41 PM

Da nada, Magpie. I just believe in going after the right target(s).

Both deserve a smack upside the head, so no harm done in my book.

Posted by: palamedes at December 5, 2005 08:14 AM

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Posted by: Jake at December 29, 2005 04:16 AM