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April 22, 2005

By Way of Comparison

This lead from a recent Associated Press story jolted me out of my blogging hiatus. I just had to share it with you all (I’m tacking on the second sentence just because it’s also a gem):

Iraqi lawmakers adjourned in protest Tuesday and demanded an apology after a Shiite legislator linked to a radical anti-American cleric tearfully said he was handcuffed and humiliated at a U.S. checkpoint. Two American soldiers were killed in a car bomb attack.

So we hear that the legislator (Fattah al-Sheik) is “linked to a radical anti-American cleric� (Muqtada Al-Sadr) before we find out what the US military did to him. Then, just to make sure we don’t sympathize with him too much, they actually jam an incredibly awkward sentence into the same paragraph, enveloping this man’s humiliation in a sandwich of absurdity, reminding people that car bombs are a justification for aggressive searches of Iraqis.

Now, I’m not even passing judgment as to whether that justification exists. Perhaps you agree — as long as terrorism is so rampant, an extraordinary level of caution, leading to aggressive searches, needs to be accepted. But let’s just be clear about the Associated Press’s role here: they are very obviously trying to convince readers of that stance.

And, just to be even clearer, I do not have a problem with media outlets focusing on what they find to be the important aspects of a story, to introduce proper context, and so forth, as long as they are up front about their partiality and bias. My objection is that the Associated Press is a pro-military, anti-Iraqi news service masquerading as “objective� and “balanced.� And I just wish they’d admit as much.

Here’s the third sentence:

It was the third consecutive day that Iraq’s interim parliament was sidetracked from its job of setting up a government and writing a constitution.

Those pesky parliamentarians, allowing themselves to become sidetracked. This could just as easily have been the lead:

Aggressive behavior on the part of US troops sidetracked Iraq’s interim parliament today as legislators adjourned to demand an apology over an incident tearfully recounted by a Shiite legislator who said American checkpoint guards handcuffed and humiliated him.

All of the facts in my version are directly taken from the 3 sentences of the AP story I’ve already quoted, but it paints a very different image. Besides the obvious reorganization of the sentence, and the dropping of the discrediting reference to Al-Sheik’s association with Al-Sadr, I changed the language to active voice instead of the AP’s preferred passive voice. The AP likes to portray the news as stuff that happens to people. So soldiers “were killed� and an Iraqi “was handcuffed and humiliated.� If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that people rarely do anything in AP stories. Mostly, stuff happens to them.

Now, I realize that Al-Sheik’s membership in a party affiliated with Al-Sadr is relevant to this story. It could be that the soldiers singled him out because of his connection. But there is nothing to suggest that he was treated as he was for any reason other than the fact that he is an Iraqi legislator. And the same goes for the car bombing. The AP loves to cram multiple unrelated stories into one article, as is their style (and prerogative), but the juxtapositioning of such stories does make a difference.

This weblog entry is copied from ZNet Blogs, where it was originally posted.

Comments...

lionhead: By Way of Comparison

Wow. Beautiful reworking of AP article.

Now, what can be done/we do about the shameful lack of critical thinkers who passively accept AP's kind of reporting? who passively accept as "truth" just about anything that appears in MSM?

Well, we lack plain old good readers, too, otherwise I would suggest a service of this kind of parsing of news. Nope. The one- and two-liners are all the consumers of morning/evening newspaper or tv news can handle, apparently.

VivekApte: By Way of Comparison

I got in huge fight last night with a guy who said, "Well, the media ownership may be right-wing, but the journalists themselves are overwhelmingly left-wing, so it balances out."

Right. Those wily journalists go up against the owners every day and sneak those overwhelmingly left-wing views under the bosses' right-wing noses, day in and day out, tirelessly just for us.

My point in saying this is that i'm not sure if the media is the way it is because of what ordinary consumers of the media want. I think it's the way it is because that's what the media owners want. Media owners being big businesses, it's natural that whatever they put out will be favorable to big businesses. So, i don't think the two-second sound-bites are a result of anyone's "shameful" lack of critical thinking. If it were in the media's interest to teach critical-thinking skills, i trust we would all be crack logicians by now. If tutorials on the Geneva Conventions were likely to serve their interests, we would all be well versed in elementary international law.

I think the fact that we get three days of media saturation over Janet Jackson's tit, and constant blockages in the media over who Ben Affleck is boffing right now, isn't really our fault. (I'm using those two as examples of a much more pervasive phenomenon of treating the lives of entertainers and sports figures as though they're just as newsworthy as, oh, say, the national budget or that West Bank settlers regularly poison the water supply of entire Palestinian villages with used diapers and other garbage.) It costs a f&^% of a lot of money to put up alternatives to wardrobe malfunctions, and let's not forget how important it is to have nothing but the Pope on for seven days, either. While PBS was supposed to be the kind of organization that could present alternatives to this stultifying crap, PBS is now little more than a snake in the liberal nest - a pernicious purveyor of right-wing lies on the one hand, and a favorite target of Republicans when they complain disingenuously about the "liberal media," on the other hand.

I simply don't believe that the way the news is has just evolved organically over the years based on human nature and some supposed inborn lack of thinking ability. I think a few very powerful forces have colluded to give it the face it has. I agree with you in general, though.

curt_braman: By Way of Comparison

Today's (April 26, 2005) NY Times has an even more transparent example of the dominant media's participation in a continual attempt to manipulate public opinion. The story titled "U.S. Considers Toughening Stance Toward Venezuela" is accompanied by a graphic of Venezuelan Army reservists training, in what could have been taken from the same file footage of Al Qaeda training that we've seen repeatedly on all the news networks. The text is more or less a rehash of the typical bellicose pronouncements by Bush Administration officials, but the choice of this image over the caption:

"President Hugo Chávez wants to expand the force to two million troops."

speaks to what I suspect will be a developing shift from negative coverage of Venezuela trade policies to Chavez as a military threat. This from the same news organization that displayed such public remorse for misleading its readers during the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

http://nytimes.com/2005/04/26/international/americas/26venezuela.html


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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.