The recent statement by the Obamas to Brian Williams of NBC that their Portuguese water dog was caught "chewing a magazine," means they run the risk of suffering the same embarrassment the Bush family experienced when their Scottish terrier, Barney, bit a Reuters reporter.
(Full disclosure: this was covered extensively on my Web site, www.dogsandthepress.com. Also: I did not vote for President Bush.)
I've noticed that journalists have become quite fond of making disclosures. (Full disclosure: the disclosures in the first four paragraphs of this column were included to make a point about disclosures and are not true, except for the disclosure of my voting record.)
On the face of it, disclosures are a welcome trend, because when writers flag possible conflicts of interest it helps readers assess the merits of what is being reported.
But it also reminds me of a device my sister often used in conversation when we were growing up. She'd say, "No offense, but..." just before telling me something that was highly offensive. (Full disclosure: I also have another sister, plus two brothers.)
Some recent disclosures by major writers raises the question: In light of the disclosure, why are you the one writing this story?
A Newsweek cover story, for example, ripped talkshow diva Oprah Winfrey for allegedly promoting the work of quacks in the fields of medicine and fitness. Deep in the 6-thousand word report Newsweek's writers mocked Winfrey for her keen interest in a book about menopause by "A Dartmouth-educated ob-gyn," followed by:
"Disclosure: Newsweek correspondent Pat Wingert, who worked on this article, and contributor Barbara Kantrowitz are coauthors of a book on menopause."
This type of disclosure adds an aura of credibility to what could be a case of disqualifying bias. On the other hand, some disclosure-happy journalists go over the top for no apparent reason other than to be credited with candor. (Disclosure: The following are actual, unedited disclosures.)
"Full disclosure: I love the future!" - Sportingnews.com.
"Full disclosure: I'm afflicted by this particular anxiety. The uncertainty of being on the road keeps me home more than your average travel writer." - The Baltimore Sun.
"Full disclosure: The last time I cooked from it, I substituted trout roe for caviar." - The New York Times
"Full disclosure: I've ridden a bike around New York as my principal means of transport for 30 years, so I'm inclined to sympathize with the idea that a cycling revolution is upon us, and that it's a good thing." - The New York Times
"Full disclosure: "I have a personal connection too; some of my friends work on Sesame Street, and they aren't furry." - Time Magazine
"Full disclosure: The reporter who wrote this piece contacted me via email for an interview, [but] I didn't have the time to respond." - Feministing.com.
"OK, full disclosure here: I was born in Michigan. I live in Michigan. I love Michigan. I believe that many of the state's critics haven't spent enough time in these spirited environs to develop an informed opinion." - Fox Sports.
One interesting thing these disclosures have in common is that they are all "full." I haven't run across many partial disclosures or virtually complete disclosures in media these days. And why not just "disclosure"? Wouldn't that suffice?
Many over-cooked phrases in our mass communications, especially those seemingly intended to elevate the veracity of the writer or speaker, are really warning signs. "Fair and balanced," for instance, is basically a guarantee that what follows is neither. Similarly, the act of disclosing bias does not by itself create a license to be biased.
No offense, but full disclosures may be better than no disclosures, but not by much.
(Full disclosure: I am a frequent reader of the newspaper in which this appears.)
© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Monterey County Herald.