The Tale of Two Media

27 08 2009

What a fascinating post on Hot Air by Green Room blogger Karl. He took a look at how the media covered two tragedies in the lives of two people who recently died.

Both Ted Kennedy and Robert Novak died of brain cancer. Novak is tied to the Valerie Plame case – the “outted” CIA agent from the Bush administration. Kennedy is tied to an accident at Chappaquiddick, on Martha’s Vineyard – a car accident after a party, where the car he was driving was submerged in 7 feet of water, trapping his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy freed himself, left the scene with Kopechne trapped in the car, and didn’t report it to authorities until the next morning. Kopechne died of asphyxiation.

In review: Plame is alive; Kopechne is dead.

Here are his findings of how the media covered this:

The Associated Press mentioned Chappaquiddick in the 7th graf of the Kennedy obit; Plame appears in the 2nd graf of the Novak obit (which later had to be correctedregarding the Plame case). Reuters mentioned Chappaquiddick in the 18th graf, but mentioned the Plame case in the lede. The New York Times mentioned Chappaquiddick in the 14th graf, Plame in the lede. The Washington Post put Chappaquiddick in the 9th graf, Plame in the 2nd graf(andthe second sentence). The Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times put Chappaquiddick in the 12th graf, Plame in the lede. USA Today put Chappaquiddick in the 19th graf, Plame in the 6th graf. The Hill made no mention of Chappaquiddick, but put the Plame case in the second graf. Roll Call put Chappaquiddick in the 25th graf, Plame in the 12th. The NY Daily News put Chappaquiddick in the 13th graf, Plame in the 9th graf.

Not every media outlet followed the pattern. The Politico put Chappaquiddick in the 24th graf, but put Plame in the 30th. The Wall Street Journal placed Chappaquiddick in the 6th graf, and Plame in the 11th. But these were the exceptions proving the rule.

It always amazed me over the years how the Chappaquiddick accident resulted in nothing more than less than a year’s license suspension for Kennedy. I wonder what would happen if I did the same: partied, drove, crashed, left, sobered, slept, reported. I doubt I’d be a United States Senator.

A few years ago I went to Martha’s Vineyard and stood by the ferry to Chappaquiddick. I thought of Mary Joe. I explained to the kids what happened – it is good that they know. I couldn’t help but notice the distance is not very far from the main island to Chappaquiddick island – the water not very deep. I probably could jump in and open a submerged car door. If I was sober.

It is the epic tale of two media – two standards.