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Most journalists accepted the Bush administration's formulation of the 'War on Terror' as a campaign against WMD, in contrast to coverage during the Clinton era, when many journalists made careful distinctions between acts of terrorism and the acquisition and use of WMD," the study said.
The study, Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction, evaluated stories from 11 news outlets in the United States and Britain, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report. It also included coverage by National Public Radio in its two main news programs.
It's one more example of how a certain degree of informed skepticism should be the standard operating procedure for newspapers, for reporters or editors who work on them," said associate journalism professor Steve Barkin. "I think if we aren't lazy and insist that the assertions be backed up with facts, we wouldn't have problems like this one in which the bulk of the American public was misled.
Part of the blame lies on the adoption of the inverted pyramid style of writing, Moeller said. The term refers to a form of writing that began with the advent of The Associated Press, an international news wire service, in 1848.
Stories in inverted pyramid style typically lead with the most important or prominent players in a news story - Bush, for instance. This has led to the domination of the Bush administration's point of view in news stories, Moeller said.
Alternative opinions are buried later in the story, giving them less credence than the initial viewpoints, Moeller said.
Barkin said most journalists know readers typically abandon stories after the first few paragraphs, but he also suggested readers should share some of the blame for being misinformed.
"Had they read complete stories, they would have at least gotten some sense of the doubts that some people believed in that came later in the story," Barkin said.