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Burying the Lede, Good and Deep

March 19th, 2011 - 10:08 am

Back in journalism class — high school journalism — Capt. Scott Spangler taught us about this mysterious item known by journalistic professionals as “the lede.” A tricky thing, this lede. It’s supposed to convey everything a reader needs to understand the gist of the story — and all in the very first sentence! Highly-trained journalistic professionals have sometimes even claimed it must explain the “WWWWH,” or the “Five Double-yous.” That’s the “Who, What, When, Where and hoW” for you non-highly trained journalistic professionals.

With that in mind, let us look now at the “lede” of story making a big splash on the top right corner of the Washington Post:

A Pentagon audit has found that the federal government overpaid a billionaire oilman by as much as $200 million on several military contracts worth nearly $2.7 billion.

Golly. Sounds like quite a scandal. But who is this billionaire oilman? The only billionaire oilman I’ve read about recently in the Post is that sneaky Koch guy — or were there two of them — who give all those millions to racists Tea Party members and union-busting Republican governors. It must be him. Or them. Maybe the next graf (that’s what highly-trained journalistic professional call a “paragraph”) offers a clue to the identity of the robbing oil baron.

The audit by the Defense Department’s inspector general, which was posted on the Pentagon’s Web site this week, estimated that the department paid the oilman “$160 [million] to $204 million more for fuel than could be supported by price or cost analysis.” The study also reported that the three contracts were awarded under conditions that effectively eliminated the other bidders.

Well there’s that word “oilman” again — but still no names have been named. But, really, I know what’s going on. An oilman — probably from Texas — has been robbing us blind. Maybe there’s even collusion between Mr. Koch (and his brother!) and that Pentagon the Republicans love so much. And then the typical reader might go on to the next snappy “lede.”

But we’re made of sturdier stuff. Let us continue:

Harry Sargeant III, a well-connected Florida businessman and once-prominent Republican donor, first faced scrutiny over his defense work in October 2008, when he was accused in a congressional probe of using his close relationship with Jordan’s royal family to secure exclusive rights over supply routes to U.S. bases in western Iraq.

Ah-hah! It wasn’t actually a Koch (or Kochs!), but some other nasty Republican billionaire oilman. Good thing we read three whole “grafs” into the story, unlike many casual readers, or we might have gotten the wrong impression there.

Funny though, you’d think highly-trained journalistic professionals like Penn Bullock and Kimberly Kindy would know to put important information, like the billionaire oilman’s name, right up there in the lede. Anyway, that’s what they taught me in high school.

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