Cheat-Seeking Missles

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who Are You Embedded With

This AFP photo ran with a BBC story on the fighting in Basra today.

Apparently, AFP has a photographer embedded with the Moqtada Sadr's Mehdi Army -- which BBC refers to as "powerful," although no such qualifiers appeared when the report covered the Iraqi army forces in Basra. There's one alternative to an embedded photographer: AFP could have gotten the photo from Sadr's PR staff. Such is the nature of modern warfare.

In either case, the photo is evidence of a high degree of communication and trust between the news service of a NATO nation and a militia that is trying to throw Iraq into chaos. This up-close coverage of both sides of the battle qualifies as objective journalism, but I've never thought objectivity to be a sufficient standard for journalism because it is the standard of relativism.

If you cover both sides the same and you are objective by modern standards, but if you tell the truth about both sides, you are not, because truth requires subjective thought -- weighing, evaluating, choosing sides. So the media cover the staged PR events of the Mehdi Army, Hezbollah and Hamas and run their news releases in the name of objectivity, and consider their job well done. But the public is not served.

It's similar with weighting. A reporter can top-load a story with the quotes and details from one side, then give a few inches or seconds at the bottom of the story to present a quote from the other side, and get a thumbs up from the editor/producer for having presented an objective view. Again, the public is not served.

If the photo above were taken by an AFP photographer, he could have slammed the sniper with his camera bag and saved a good guy, but in the name of objectivity, he let the trigger be squeezed and the round be fired ... and possibly allowed an Iraqi Army or British soldier to be killed.

Ah, objectivity!

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