Friday, October 24, 2008

D&C buries bad news: Governer Paterson's aid owed big time

D&C: Paterson aide pays back $300,000

Media Bias isn't always blatant. It often occurs within the mere placement of an article in a newspaper. This is the case in Thursday's issue of the Democrat and Chronicle (D&C), in which a story about Gov. Paterson's top aide Charles O'Byrne is buried.

O'Byrne failed to file tax returns from 2001 to 2005, accumulating nearly $300,000 in state and federal tax debt. Since becoming an aide to then Lieutenant Gov. David Paterson in 2007, he's paid his debt in full.

Which of the following stories should take priority in a newspaper based in Rochester NY: the delinquent tax bills of a negligent NY state official or the 19th annual ABC Household and Antique Sale in a local town?

For the D&C the answer is the latter. The ABC story appeared on page 1B (Local & State section) right below the lead story: Teen charged with DWI. O'byrne's story was buried on page 5B. For other New York newspapers, including the Times Union (based in Albany) and the New York Post, the story was given precedence.

In addition to its poor placement, the article contains minimal information. For instance, the author mentions O'byrne's clinical depression during the years he wasn't paying taxes. But unlike the Times Union, it fails to mention that O'byrne was able to work during that time; since 2001, he's worked as a corporate lawyer, a speech writer (for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign), and as Chief of Staff to Paterson during his time as Lieutenant Gov. of New York.

It isn't always easy to report bad news. This is especially true if the bad news hits home, literally. However, it is a newspapers responsibility to inform the public of all news and to do so in such a way that important issues (good or bad) are salient. Important issues should also be reported more thoroughly then, lets say a used and antique goods sale. Readers may be upset over reading bad news, but they will have more trust in newspapers that prioritize.

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