Monday, March 19, 2007

Bias in the Press?

We've heard much about media bias and its role in shaping our view of world events. I've been somewhat reserved about the real impact of any perceived bias; after all, there are a lot of sources out there, and if one is diligent, he should be able to fairly well sort it out.

However, a short paragraph in the weekend papers had me reconsidering just how deeply this may go. Here's the paragraph:

There is a mounting power struggle between insurgents and the growing number of Sunnis who oppose them in Anbar, the center of the Sunni insurgency, which stretches from Baghdad to the borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The Anbar assaults came three days after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, traveled there to reach out to Sunni clan chiefs in a bid to undermine tribal support for the insurgency.

This paragraph is in a story from an AP news source, so the article is carried by media around the world. Now to me, the paragraph contains several elements of positive news in it, relative to the situation in Iraq:

1. The struggle for control of the country between insurgents and the government is "mounting", meaning that the government is finding its footing and beginning to make its presence felt in the most volatile Iraqi province.

2. A "growing number of Sunnis" are coming to oppose the insurgency.

3. Prime Minister al-Maliki's visit may have something to do with the growing opposition to the insurgency, hence the attacks.

4. The visit by al-Maliki to Anbar is the first he has been able to make, another sign that the government is gaining credibility.

So, these positive developments are being heralded as progress in contrast to the number of bombings and kidnappings in the country, right? Well, not exactly. In most sources, this paragraph is filler material, buried in the context of the real story, the successful bombings. Consider the various headlines that this story carries in papers around the world:

* Bombers attack with chlorine (Indianapolis Star)
* 7 more American troops killed in Iraq (WKRN Nashville)
* Iraq attacks show insurgents resilience (WKRN Nashville)
* US Military had warned of possible new clorine attacks (KNX Southern California)
* Chemical blasts sicken hundreds in Iraq (Yahoo News)
* Chemical Blasts Sicken Hundreds in Iraq (AOL News)
* 7 U.S. Troops Die in Iraq Violence (The Guardian, UK)
* 7 more American troops killed in Iraq (Houston Chronicle)
* Chlorine-laden suicide truck bombs strike Anbar province, sickening hundreds (USA Today)
* Chemical blasts sicken hundreds in Iraq (China Daily)
* and so on, and so on...

Of course, we recognize that editors choose the sensational components of a story for its headline. Interesting change in a half century, though...the headlines in WWII focused on the latest advances (or failures) of the allied troop efforts, not on the destruction being wrought in that progress. The violence was buried in the story in those days, the progress was highlighted; now the progress is buried, the violence is highlighted.

Well, that is a good thing, anti-war proponents would say. Highlight the violence, make it harder to gain popular support for the war, end wars. Now that is progress!

Yes, that is just the kind of progress every repressive regime or dictator would like to see prevail...including the One World dictator to come. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, all were experts at promoting the cost of resistance. Eliminate the desire to stand against wrong, because it is too bloody. After all, a peaceful life is more important than petty little personal freedoms, especially "over there". Just get along, and all will be well.

Sir C, surveying the front lines


  1. What I have sometimes found curious is the way they seem to regard war as impersonal catastrophe-like bad weather. They say "fighting has broken out" when they really mean,"We found a bunch of them and are beating them to a pulp". Sometimes we want fighting to "break out".

    Sir Jason

  2. an unsubstantiated and possibly quote-but most amusing:

    "It appears we have appointed our worst generals to command forces, and our most gifted and brilliant to edit newspapers!

    In fact, I discovered by reading newspapers that these editor/geniuses plainly saw all my strategic defects from the start, yet failed to inform me until it was too late.

    Accordingly, I'm readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects, and I'll, in turn, do my best for the Cause by writing editorials - after the fact."

    -Robert E. Lee, 1863
    Sir Jason