How to generate 1325 comments

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

There are two articles on the front of the Washington Post right now about the nuclear summit being held in the US right now. Guess which one has more comments?


You guessed it, it's the one where Obama is "showing dictators how to circumvent a free press", not the one that just reports on what is being discussed and agreed upon at the conference.

Check it out yourself to see how many invalid comparisons and exaggerations are made. Let's count:

Invalid comparisons - 1) Washington now feels just like Soviet-era Moscow. 2) President's position used to be known as the leader of the free world. 3) Obama is more skilled than a dictator in avoiding the press. 4) American freedoms (as a result of this president, no doubt!) are no longer what they used to be. 5) Even the Chinese president was more comfortable talking with the press than Obama! (Note to writer: the Chinese press is issued directives over what to and what not to publish. See their talking points on Google for example. He's not talking to China's equivalent of Fox News.) 6) Obama's official schedule for Tuesday would have pleased the China's Central Committee!

Exaggerations - 1) Washington has a ton of security. Big surprise considering it's only hosting the leaders of 47 countries including Russia and China. 2) Poor journalists only had 30 seconds, 40 seconds, less than a minute to cover the interview between Obama and the king of Jordan and other world leaders.


Looks like a total of about eight or so then. Now, an article protesting a lack of press access could easily have been written without references to Soviet-era Moscow and China, but this reporter decided to go for the jugular this time and came off looking more interested in trying to write up as shocking a piece as possible than one actually concerned with freedom of the press.

So how much press access should be allowed at a gathering like this? A general rule of thumb is that there should always be a certain amount of access, but less near the beginning and more later on. In the beginning there isn't as much to report on anyway, and important discussions need to take place without having to worry too much about the opposition back home having a field day with a statement made to a gotcha question. Once some general agreements have been made then there is some news to report on, and new positions and agreements that can be debated and defended. Threats to freedom of the press occur when governments enact policies to actively curb what can be written or that guarantee the government a response to anything written about them (e.g. the legal authority to insert their own editorials into newspapers in response to those written by others), not when world leaders need to discuss what to do about nuclear fuel behind closed doors.

The second article so far has...zero comments.

Personally, I'm more interested in the details of this meeting that are flying a bit under the radar. The agreement between the US and Mexico for example to downgrade their uranium to a type unsuitable for nuclear weapons is a nice step.

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