Cheat-Seeking Missles

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Good News Judgment or Bias? Media Play of Mosque Shooting Raises Questions

Is the media fairly covering a legitimate story by playing up the killing of a wounded insurgent by a US soldier? Certainly, an argument can be made, primarily because Arab media are running with the story big-time to fuel Anti-American hostility in the Near East. Analysis of that angle, particularly if it plays up the differences between the Arab press and a truly free press, is defensible, even laudable.

The LA Times presents a good Petri dish for testing the fairness/bias question, through its coverage of the mosque shooting (here) and the killing of Margaret Hassan (here).

The mosque killing is played above the fold on page one, immediately under a photo of the President and Condoleezza Rice. Beneath the fold are two grainy black and white photos. In a tiny “Related Stories” box is this: Hostage: CARE chief in Iraq is believed dead. A12.

On A12, facing the end of the mosque shooting story on A13, is the story of the murder of a truly excellent human being by truly reprehensible humans, complete with a photo of her smiling and vital – not the haggard, frightened photos that the editors could have used.

The reporter, John Daniszewski, refers to Hassan’s vicious, heartless and fanatical murders as “captors,” “kidnappers,” and “abductors.” One quote from a family member that is slightly stronger is included: “…those who are guilty of this atrocious act ….”

Meanwhile John Hendren and my least favorite Times reporter, Elizabeth Shogren, have this to say about the soldier in the mosque and US troops: “screaming” and “the shooting evoked the same sentiments as Abu Ghraib which showed US troops torturing [!] Iraqi prisoners.” (Shogren normally covers enviromental issues from Washington; I call her So-Green.)

The mosque story puts the Army’s defense first and reports it fairly, then follows with the NBC crew’s account. The remainder of the story lets Amnesty International, a DePaw University law professor, and a libertarian refute the field reports from the comfort of their safe, climate controlled offices, and concludes with a supposition that the military command and Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi set up such a tragedy with their pre-attack briefings and pep talks.

The article's headline says the killing is causing an uproar in the Arab media, but it really only uses a few quotes, like “It goes to show that the Marines are no better than the so-called terrorists,” and doesn't analyze that angle of the story much further. The reporters are skimming the sensationalistic cream off the Arab media angle and using it to undermine the success of the Falloujah operation. They provide no depth and context, no analysis of the dearth of Arab media coverage of the evidence of numerous insurgent atrocities uncovered by the Marines.

So, the killing of an innocent woman by her vaguely defined kidnappers is described in a sanitized story that does next to nothing to portray the savageness of her murderers and the belief system that drives them, and a tragic but forgivable act by a young soldier, injured the day before and witness to the effect of booby-trapped bodies, is dissected under a harsh, critical light. The bias continues.