The AP’s Libby Quaid is becoming famous, in an infamous sort of way, for her heavily-laden ledes. Normally, these brief intro paragraphs merely tell a reader what the story’s about. But Quaid’s do so much more. They take a reader someplace he or she never really expected to go. For example:
Republican John McCain is known for his.
He’s been dubbed “Senator Hothead” by more than one publication, but he’s also had some success extracting his hatchet from several foreheads.
To paraphrase Churchill, some foreheads, some hatchet. That Quaid gem ran last February, just a few days before the appearance of my favorite Libby lede, one that ran under a USA Today headline that managed to dumb down Tammy Wynette:
Cindy McCain, like others, stands by man
…waiting for a bus, maybe. Libby’s story was an elaboration of that embarrassing attempt last February by the NY Times to assassinate McCain’s character by claiming that just maybe he had had an affair with a lobbyist. Although it wasn’t exactly a scoop, it was front-page innuendo. (I snarked about it here.) The AP’s follow-up cried out for a good Libby lede, and she delivered like Domino’s:
Cindy McCain did not hesitate as she stepped toward the microphone, taking her place in the history of political wives who stood by their men in the face of rumored or alleged marital infidelity.
“Well, obviously, I’m disappointed,” she said, her voice low but clear and self-assured.
Cindy McCain might have hesitated a little if she’d realized she was stepping into Libby Quaid’s feverish mind, since it turned out that Cindy McCain wasn’t actually disappointed in her husband. She was disappointed in people like Libby Quaid. The story ended with Quaid comparing Cindy McCain with the wives of Jim McGreevey, Kwame Kilpatrick and other men whose “rumored marital infidelity” must have had something to do with her husband. The story stung like a hatchet to the forehead!
Today’s Libby lede is from the campaign trail where Quaid is covering Sen. Hothead, R-Arizona:
Republican John McCain insists last year’s U.S. troop buildup in Iraq brought a glimmer of “something approaching normal” there, despite a recent outbreak of heavy fighting and an American death toll that has surpassed 4,000.
The hidden message? Let me explain, drawing on my own professional experience: Quaid thinks McCain is wrong about Iraq. It’s subtle, yes, but if you read past the lede, you too could tell because in the actual piece itself, Libby carefully added some balance to McCain’s comments, which were obviously biased in favor of McCain.
Here’s how that works:
First, McCain says something about Iraq. Then Libby adds a “despite” to her lede and piles on with this:
The presidential nominee-in-waiting is closely tied to the unpopular, 5-year-old war. McCain was a vocal advocate of the troop increase strategy eventually adopted by President Bush, and is seeking to convince people the strategy is working.
Next, McCain says blah, blah, something about success in Iraq. Libby helps him get back on track:
In either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, McCain will face a Democratic rival who disputes the claims of success and seeks a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Debate will intensify this week as Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker testify to Congress. Clouding their testimony is fighting that erupted late last month as U.S.-trained Iraqi forces attempted to oust Shiite militias from Basra in southern Iraq.
McCain: A bunch of stats and a comment about how well the surge is working.
Despite the positive numbers he cited, 2007 — the year of the troop buildup — was the deadliest yet.
McCain: Fixing Iraq’s going to take time and lots of dough.
And he insisted he could rally support from the majority of Americans — even though, according to public opinion surveys, they believe the war is going badly and the troop buildup has not helped.
Two “despites” and one “even though”? See, that’s what I love about Libby. She doesn’t just report. She debates! So you can decide how right she is. (Technically speaking, in J-school this cut-and-comment technique is called a Lizzy Borden Surgical Edit, named after a 19th century Massachusetts freelancer who also had some success extracting her hatchet from several foreheads.)
This is Libby’s first campaign. Her last AP gig was as the “food and farm writer.” In 2005, she almost won a top award for her hard-hitting ag-writing. A typical Libby-lede, country-style:
America’s appetite for organic food is so strong that supply just can’t keep up with demand. Organic products still have only a tiny slice, about 2.5 percent, of the nation’s food market. But the slice is expanding at a feverish pace.
Despite her discovery of feverishly expanding slices of the nation’s food market, she didn’t win the food and farm writers’ award, even though she came very close.