Top 10 Stories Politicians and PR People Tried to Bury

Friday afternoon.

Christmas Eve.

Election night.

These are the times when, if you are sharp-eyed, you will spot politicians and P.R. people sneaking out to the news graveyard — barely visible, perhaps, under the secret light of a cloudy moon, walking with shovels in hand.

They are there to bury a story.

As a holiday treat, Poynter Online presents the top 10 buried stories of all time. (And we invite you to share your nominations, as well.) Some are categories, some individual stories; some are old news, some quite recent; but all, apparently, were buried just a bit too shallowly — because here they are.

10. Market-movers. Market-moving financial data — technically defined as the kind of news that will freak out Wall Street — is routinely buried. It’s released on Friday afternoon after the close of the New York markets. The intention is not altogether sinister; often, executives just want the electronic trading herd to react rationally on Monday morning instead of emotionally on Friday afternoon.

>> But if they’re really freaked out, investors still have this

9. Last-Minute Pleas. In big court cases, the pleadings are often filed mere minutes before the court clerk’s office closes so nobody can get a look at them. Poynter President Jim Naughton adds: “It often works these days … when we are too pristine to give a bottle of booze to the compliant court clerk at holiday times.”

>> For the compliant court clerk in your life

8. Kissinger vs. turkey. The Bush administration announced that Henry Kissinger would lead the government’s Sept. 11 investigation panel on the day before Thanksgiving. Though the appointment still made big headlines, some journalists say expert sources and commentators were impossible to reach because of the holiday.

>> Compare for yourself: Kissinger vs. turkey

7. Coleen Rowley vs. Homeland Security. Bob Williams of Congressional Quarterly recalls waiting in the Hart Senate Office Building earlier this year to hear the first public testimony from FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley. The room was overflowing, Williams says. Suddenly, pockets began to buzz. It was a flurry of cell phone calls triggered by a White House leak: The formation of the Homeland Security Department would be announced that afternoon.

“By the time Rowley finally testified,” Williams says, “the room was mostly empty.”

>> Okay, so this story got a little bit of coverage

6. Night Court. One must hesitate to accuse as august a body as the United States Supreme Court of trying to bury a story. However, journalists have pointed out that the court’s December 2000 decision to stop the vote recount in Florida came unsigned, at night, and without the usual summary that would allow broadcast reporters to quickly explain it to viewers.

>> That’s when you need someone like this

5. Everything That Has Ever Been Announced on a Friday. My sources concur: If it’s the White House and it’s 4 p.m. on Friday, it must be bad or unpopular news. That’s not a Bush administration innovation; Clinton’s and Reagan’s were the same way. And it’s true of the entire executive branch, not just the White House. A recent example: The EPA announced its lowered clean air standards on — yes, indeed — Friday, Nov. 15.

>> Do press secretaries all sing this song?

4. Not Only Democrats Lost Their Jobs. The announcement of embattled SEC chairman Harvey Pitt’s resignation came at 9 p.m. on election night this November. The election is one of the only stories that could have eclipsed Pitt’s farewell; one wonders for how long he knew Nov. 5 would be his last night on the job.

>> Apparently we are not the only ones doing top 10 lists

3. The Saturday Night Massacre. On Saturday, Oct. 20, 1973, President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox. That’s a pretty difficult story to bury no matter what; however, it got a lot harder when Richardson refused — and resigned in protest.

>> Photo from Saturday Night

2. The Presidential Pardon. The presidential pardon is like some freakish undead ghoul: It keeps getting buried over and over again. President George H. W. Bush quietly issued a few on Christmas Eve in 1992. President Bill Clinton submitted his on his last day in office in 2001. They both still aroused controversy — but you’ve got to give them credit for trying.

>> Bet you didn’t hear about this one
>> Get your own presidential pardon!

1. The Ones That Got Away. Clearly, the truly buried stories are the ones that aren’t on this list — because we walked right over them. To these stories, and their skilled gravediggers, we offer our regrets, and a New Year’s resolution: May we let no story go into the cold ground unremarked or unexamined.


[What stories do you feel were successfully buried deep? Which were in a shallow grave, dug up by the dogged press?]

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