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A Copy Editing Disaster

Perhaps NewsMax should stick with running those Judicial Watch press releases verbatim after all.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/13/2000

The good news is that NewsMax put a byline on its latest Judicial Watch press release.

The bad news is that it's Carl Limbacher's, as this "story behind the story" resides in the "Inside Cover" section.

However, Carl may want to take his name off it, because the even worse news is that "Carl Limbacher and Staff" actually attempted some minor editing and introduced some big errors above and beyond the ones Judicial Watch originally put in.

In its Aug. 11 "story," Carl and Co. did a generally faithful job of reproducing an Aug. 10 Judicial Watch press release on awards reportedly being given to INS agents who took part in the April raid to take Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives. We get your usual Judicial Watch blather that, as ConWebWatch has often noted, makes NewsMax look bad when presented as a work of journalism: the declaration that the raid was "illegal" when no court has made such a declaration, an assertion that the agents "should, frankly, be incarcerated" that stands alone without attribution or any note that it (let alone the entire story) came from a press release, that kind of stuff.

(By the way, this brings the total to at least seven since May. There is, however, another piece focusing on Judicial Watch that NewsMax ran July 28. There's no correlating press release on the Judicial Watch web site, but it sure reads like one.)

Carl and the boys show actual journalistic instincts demonstrated nowhere else here by trying to take out non-Elian-related content -- a good idea, actually, since the allegations linking government officials to other alleged scandals are unsubstantiated.

They get into big trouble, though, when they try to paraphrase what's left. They take the statement from the press release saying that the awards being given by INS head Doris Meissner "are undoubtedly calculated to try and influence court proceedings against her, Attorney General Janet Reno, and Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder" over the Elian saga and try to add that Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit.

But they put it in the wrong place. The NewsMax article reads that the awards "are undoubtedly calculated to try and influence court proceedings against her by Judicial Watch, Attorney General Janet Reno, and Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder."

Yes, the story reads that Meissner is being sued by Reno, Holder and Judicial Watch.

Then, in the third paragraph, NewsMax adds a reference to "Judicial Watch chief Larry Klayman." But two paragraphs later is a straight-from-the-press-release quote from "Judicial Watch Chairman and General Counsel Larry Klayman." This is what is known as redundancy; Klayman has already been introduced once, so the slavish devotion to the press release should have been abandoned and the second reference should have read simply, "Klayman said."

And in the fourth paragraph NewsMax story is the sentence: "Klayman says Meissner is "the most lawless head of the INS in American history." The problem? Klayman isn't quoted as saying that in the press release. It's taken from a sentence with no attribution that asserts that Meissner "is, in the view of Judicial Watch, the most lawless head of the INS in American history."

All this makes one question the journalistic credentials of "Carl Limbacher and staff." They take a press release and not only don't tone down the hyperbole associated with press release, they introduce a factual error, an attribution error and a sloppy copy-editing error. Most other news organizations, confronted with work like this, would give the person responsible a severe tongue-lashing at the minimum and a pink slip at worst.

Most editors try to keep mistakes like these out of their publications, not put them in.

But, since the NewsMax way is less about the facts and more about advancing an agenda, don't expect Christopher Ruddy to suddenly get religion and issue any sort of reprimand visible to its readers. The "story" made the point it was supposed to, after all.

If you were wondering why NewsMax staffers are working there as opposed to somewhere else, this would appear to be one reason.

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