Press Box

Weird Lede of the Week

The Wall Street Journal hypes a nonexistent “backlash.’

As news ledes go, the one atop “Democrats Face Rescue Backlash: Some Voters Oppose Having to Bail Out Homeowners at Risk” in the May 12 Wall Street Journal isn’t totally preposterous. Journal reporters Sudeep Reddy and Elizabeth Holmes write:

Democrats may be risking a backlash at the polls in November by pushing hard to use taxpayer money to rescue homeowners who can no longer afford their mortgages in the face of stiff resistance from President Bush and many other Republicans.

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Yet the piece presents no evidence that any Democrat running for office is at risk from a mortgage-bailout “backlash.” The story quotes five citizens—three McCain supporters, a Clinton supporter, and one likely Obama voter—on the topic. One of the McCain supporters is totally against the plan, one thinks it would be unworkable, and the third says a bank bailout is OK only if you do something for families. The Clinton backer endorses the plan, and the Obama man just can’t make up his mind.

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The story’s eighth paragraph, however, suggests that no backlash is in the offing. Citing a Gallup poll from late March, the article reports that 56 percent of Americans favor a bailout for home buyers who can’t pay their mortgages, and 42 percent oppose the concept. The poll also recorded 71 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents in favor of the idea and 58 percent of Republicans against it, indicating a “partisan divide,” as the story puts it.

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The article quotes political consultants and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle on the merits of the bill, which passed the House last week. The only one who raises the peril of a backlash is Republican consultant Todd Harris, who speaks of “massive voter retribution against any plan that is perceived to bail out greedy and unscrupulous speculators and mortgage companies.”

Since when does a single Republican consultant’s prediction frame an entire Wall Street Journal news story?

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There’s not even the fixings for a decent editorial in the Journal article—and I’m against the bailout bill! Encountered a ridiculous lede in your reading? Send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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