Ed Driscoll

Inverting The Inverted Pyramid

For decades, most newspaper stories have been written in what’s call the “inverted pyramid” style of journalism, as this college Webpage explains:

To understand what the “inverted pyramid” name means, picture an upside-down triangle — one with the narrow tip pointing downward and the broad base pointing upward. The broad base represents the most newsworthy information in the news story, and the narrow tip represents the least newsworthy information in the news story. When you write a story in inverted pyramid format, you put the most newsworthy information at the beginning of the story and the least newsworthy information at the end.

As Jennifer Rubin notes, the Washington Post have just inverted the inverted pyramid — or as Jennifer puts it, “Talk About Buried Ledes”. Found 18 paragraphs into a story on the perpetually obfuscating Speaker Pelosi is this:

Two officials present during the briefings in 2002 said the talks were overshadowed by fears of more terrorist attacks. “It was wartime crisis mode, and all the chatter at the time was about a ’second wave,’ ” said one congressional official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the briefings were classified. “The next attack was supposed to be even bigger, and everyone was taking it very seriously.”

Against that backdrop, lawmakers from both parties pressed the CIA for details about what it was learning from a high-value captive: Abu Zubaida, whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein. There was little, if any, questioning about how the information was obtained, according to the two participants.

“No one in either party was questioning interrogation tactics,” said the congressional official. “People from [both] parties were saying, ‘Do what it takes.’ Their questions were, ‘Do you have the authorities you need?’ and ‘Are you doing enough?’”

As Jennifer adds:

Well, that seems awful important, doesn’t it? We have not just one but two witnesses saying that of course no one thought to question the techniques being employed because they were under siege, afraid for their lives and the lives of our citizens. And there’s that comment again — “Are you doing enough?” Sure does sound like the version which Porter Goss has been relaying.

But if one wanted to be excessively charitable to the Speaker one could acknowledge that since little time was spent on the techniques and the focus was on how to prevent future attacks the Speaker just doesn’t recall any description of CIA interrogation methods. It wasn’t important at the time, and hence would not have stuck in her memory. Because, after all, what difference did it make, really, if they had rough techniques when hundreds if not thousands of lives were at stake.

But there, you see, is the nub of the matter. At the time no one in their right mind would have thought to (in fact, no one did) quibble with harsh measures. It would have been absurd for a country still reeling from attack and fearful of another to second guess good faith efforts to extract vital information from the worst-of-the-worst terrorists. No, that sort of second guessing is saved for 2009 when the moral preening and sneering at others’ “fear” is quite in fashion. Only now is it acceptable in some circles to vilify and indeed prosecute those who kept us safe.

So allow me to re-write the Post’s lead: “While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi denies she was briefed on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation methods and has accused the CIA of lying to her, two witnesses now confirm she received an extensive briefing on efforts to extract information from a high-value al Qaeda captive — an effort that Pelosi enthusiastically supported and for which she offered any needed assistance.” Not the pithiest, but what it lacks in brevity it makes up for in exactitude.

Hey, Katharine Graham promised “Mass with Class” — she never promised exactitude at the Post.