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They Call this Journalism


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, we 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 sentence 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.

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