Los Angeles Times: Fact and fantasy on Mrs. Thatcher

The death Monday of Margaret Thatcher has generated a huge amount of ink from newspapers on both sides the Atlantic. Opinions about the “Iron Lady” vary sharply — and some of these opinion pieces have found their way into the news reports of recent days.

This Los Angeles Times article reports the funeral arrangements –  but it has been crafted less to tell the story about the funeral than to offer its opinions about Margaret Thatcher. Save for a few knowledgeable insiders most reporters covering these sorts of affairs work off of the same press releases and from the same press conferences. The Home Office, Foreign Office, Downing Street, the Church of England, the Metropolitan Police, Buckingham Palace, the Ministry of Defense, and other government offices have been busy telling reporters of their role in the memorial service.

For example, here is the press release from the Ministry of Defense:

The Ministry of Defence has announced details of the Armed Forces’ involvement in the Funeral of The Rt Hon The Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG OM PC FRS, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990.

The Funeral will take place on Wednesday 17 April at St Paul’s Cathedral, involving more than 700 Armed Forces personnel. The Coffin will be drawn on a Gun Carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from St Clement Danes Church (the church of the Royal Air Force) in the Strand to St Paul’s, with the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force lining the route. Outside the Cathedral a Guard of Honour and Band of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards will be formed up. While the Ceremonial Procession takes place, the Honourable Artillery Company will fire Processional Minute Guns from Tower Wharf, HM Tower of London.

Carrying the Coffin of Lady Thatcher into the Cathedral will be a Bearer Party made up of all three Services, including those from ships, units and stations notable for their service during the Falklands Campaign. Positioned on the steps will be a Step Lining party made up of 18 tri-Service personnel and a contingent of In-Pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Senior military representatives will attend the service.

The reporter’s task is to distill these press releases into a single story. A good reporter seeks to add value to the story by finding a particular angle that would interest his readers and perhaps a first-person observation from someone or some institution mentioned in the press release. Working from the MOD statement, a knowledgeable reporter could develop a unique angle based on the type of funeral (military v. state), the place of the funeral,  the procession through the city, or some of the military aspects. What he should not do is offer unfounded speculation.

Let’s look at the Los Angeles Times.

LONDON — The funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest-serving leader of the 20th century, will be held in St. Paul’s Cathedral on April 17, officials said Tuesday. Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, are expected to attend what will be the most elaborate funeral to be staged in London since the death of the queen’s mother in 2002. It will be the first funeral of a prime minister that the queen will have attended since Winston Churchill’s in 1965. Thatcher, who died Monday at age 87 after years of declining health, will be given a ceremonial service with military honors, a service almost indistinguishable from an official state funeral.

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