Why Another Blog?

I've decided to set up another blog, (my other one is called Writer's Musings), because there are some topics just too weighty for that blog.

So here it is. In this space I'll explore more serious issues in more detail. I do not expect visitors to agree with me in all cases.
In this forum feel free to take off the gloves, grab a handful of mud and fight for what you believe in.

Simple rules, rather like cage-fighting in the blogosphere:
No direct name calling. No excessive profanity. No whining when smacked in the face with mud.
Sling inuendo. Feel free to ask leading questions even if in a snide tone.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Opinions vs News Reporting

There is a difference between reporting news and stating an opinion. Western media has gotten very bad at confusing the two. In their effort to “sell” a story, they package news in such a way that it is no longer news, but an opinion using selective bits of news to push an agenda. My opinion is that the Western media, owned by leftist-minded individuals, is pushing an agenda that advances their socialist ideals and seeks at every opportunity to discredit Western institutions.

Part of how they do this is most apparent in their “reporting” of events in the war-zone. To illustrate this, I’ll dissect the reporting of Alastair Leithead of the BBC on events that occurred on 18 August in Afghanistan. Leithead's text appears in italics.

Alastair Leithead of the BBC filed the following report on 19 August 2008:

Taleban Grow More Brazen

Kabul's early morning silence was broken last night first by the crunch of rockets exploding in the city, then by the emergency sirens at NATO headquarters warning the officers and generals to head for the shelters.

The rocket lead-in to the significant events of the day is disingenuous for a couple of reasons. First, rocket attacks are nothing new, they’ve been going on since around 2004 and for the most part, they are ineffective. These rockets may have exploded within the city limits, but in reality, they impacted at the edge of the city.

Second, he makes it sound like only officers and generals go to shelters when there are incoming rounds. The poor schmuck soldiers get to stay out and take it based on his wording. This is complete rubbish. In addition it overlooks the fact that about 99% of the city had no idea that there had been an attack until they saw the news the next day. I slept through it.

It was a vivid and eerie soundtrack of how close the insurgency is to the capital.

The second rocket attack in Kabul in less than a week will further feed the paranoia of Afghans and also the international community.

The first sentence is bad enough, but then he follow with his “…vivid and eerie soundtrack…” line. Is Alastair Leithead writing a novel, or is he reporting events? His third sentence about feeding the “paranoia” of Afghans (and idiot reporters) is laughable on the basis of how unremarkable the rocket attack was in the first place.

But that paranoia may not be misplaced - while the sirens were warning of incoming fire, French forces were fighting for their lives just 50km (31 miles) away.

They had been ambushed on Monday afternoon as they patrolled through Sarobi district in Kabul province, and despite sending in reinforcements, medical teams and attack aircraft they lost 10 soldiers - another 21 were injured.

He finally gets to one of the two truly significant events of the day, the attack on the French. But even his lead-in is not accurate in the facts. The French were ambushed in the afternoon in a fight that lasted until after dark. The fight lasted about three hours. The rockets actually came in long after the battle in Sarobi district was over, but that would have ruined his “fighting for their lives” line. Yep, generally in a firefight you are fighting for your life -- nothing new here either.

Then he says that despite reinforcements, air support, etc. 10 died and 21 were wounded. Of course this totally ignores the fact the almost all the casualties occurred in the first few minutes of the three hour long fight. Almost all the casualties occurred in the first minutes of the fight before all the extra stuff arrived to help out. After the initial surprise, the French were able to beat back the ambushers.

Word-choice and arrangement of chronological details in a way that “shaped” his story completely altered what should have been a straight-forward report on events, into an opinion article or non-fiction short-story.

Leithead continues:

It is one of the largest losses of life in NATO’s Afghan campaign and a huge blow to a French deployment which is already unpopular at home.

The first clause shows just how low-intensity things have been here the last several years. When 10 fatalities are among the largest losses of life in a seven year war, that’s saying a lot about how little has been happening.

There are reports of 100 insurgents attacking the convoy, of troops being captured and then killed.

If one is going to report on military events, it would seem that one would learn what one is talking about. It was not a convoy, it was a patrol. There is a huge difference.

What happened in that valley could have a significant impact on the French mission, so much so that President Nicolas Sarkozy is flying straight to Kabul to settle nerves and offer support.

One should know terrain terms when reporting on military events. “What happened in that valley” it wasn’t a valley, it was a mountain pass. The two terrain features are not synonyms and military implications are different.

The French soldiers may appreciate President Sarkozy’s show of support, but they didn’t need his “settling nerves.” While French politicians and the French populace may be spineless, their soldiers are not. Sarkozy’s visit was really for home consumption, not for any specific benefit for the troops.

And it wasn't the only major operation launched by the Taleban in one night.

An ambush of a patrol in an area that has not been patrolled much, isn’t a “major operation,” it is an ambush of a patrol. Nor was the ambush launched in the night. It was occurred in the afternoon.

In Khost, south eastern Afghanistan, up to 30 militants tried to storm the main American base in the town, just hours after a suicide car bomber had struck at the front gate killing 10 civilians working at Camp Salerno.

Finally, some straightforward reporting except that he phrases it such that you’d think the bad guys were “in the wire,” that they got close. Actually, they were engaged 1,000m away and never got close. Thirty dudes attacking a large US Army base is hardly a major operation. Three of the suicide bombers were shot before they could detonate and three others blew themselves up while running away.

Among those insurgents were at least half a dozen suicide bombers, trying to break into the camp and kill as many NATO soldiers as possible.

The second clause of this sentence is so redundant as to be silly. Like there is any chance that you thought the suicide bombers simply wanted to shop at the base store?

The attack was repelled and, as in Sarobi, many of the Taleban were killed or injured, but there appear to be plenty of others ready to pick up their guns, or strap on explosives vests, and take on a much better equipped and more highly trained army.

The first clause is relatively accurate, but the rest is pure supposition on his part. What constitutes “plenty” in the case of finding nuts crazy enough to blow themselves up? I have to believe that there are a finite number of people willing to do this. The fact is, every time the Taliban try to take on the “better-equipped and more highly trained army,” they get their heads handed to them. We want them to try to fight us like this. We want them to offer an open fight where they mass hundreds of guys. We have the advantage and they will lose every time.

The tactics are becoming more advanced and more brazen - it is as if the insurgents are gathering momentum of the growing insecurity and instability.

What is so advanced about a frontal assault on a fortified position where you are outgunned and outmanned? Brazen? Stupid is more like it. Again, it helps when writing about military matters to actually know what one is talking about. What Leithead completely overlooks when he talks about momentum, insecurity and instability is what was happening on the other side of the border at the same time.

The Pakistani Army is in the middle of a major operation (a real major operation involving thousands of troops) that has been going on for some sixteen days pounding the Taliban. The Taliban are not brazen, sophisticated or gathering momentum. They are fighting for their lives and they have nowhere to run.

Leithead concludes with:

On Monday, which was Afghanistan's Independence Day, much of Kabul was sealed off by thousands of extra police drafted in when the Taleban announced they were planning a major attack.

Leithead implies a cause and effect relationship here. There isn’t one. It is perfectly normal and prudent to increase security measures in advance of major public events. Kabul is a major city spread out over a large area with a population of almost 4 million. It takes lots of security forces to cover it. Afghanistan is a war zone. It would be idiotic not to increase security regardless of any specific threats. Do you want to bet that there will be more police present at the Democratic and Republican conventions? Think we are doing it because of some specific threat?

Guess what? There weren’t any security problems in Kabul on Afghanistan’s Independence Day. The day was quite peaceful in Kabul with the exception of the terrifying rocket attack that most of us slept through and didn’t find out about until much later the next day.

Stories like the one written by Leithead are designed to demoralize readers in the West. By doing so they hope, especially in an election year for the US, to influence public policy. Opinions ought to be left on the Editorial page where few voters venture. Front page news should be a presentation of what happened without all the colorful and slanted story-telling.

4 comments:

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Velly intellesting.

You know, I disagree with motive on the journalist's part, though. I think this is the evils of capitalism at work here, not the evils of liberalism.

Bad news sells newspapers, and the BBC is in the business of making money. Yes, he might be trying to influence public opinion, but the conflict between the war mongers and peace mongers also makes more fodder for reporting, and hense, selling MORE papers.

I agree it's a crying shame that the news distorts the facts. But even in college, when I was part of a local "controversy" and was a victim of shady journalism, it had everything to do with selling papers (by influencing opinion-- come read tomorrow to find out what's going to happen NEXT!) and little to do with socio-political leanings.

Stephen Parrish said...

You should consider becoming a war correspondent.

J. L. Krueger said...

Sex,

With freedom comes responsibility. The free Western press seems to have forgotten that. It isn't evils of capitalism that causes Western press to deliberately present stories in a way that errodes public confidence and harms Western interests.

I say deliberate because I do not believe for one instant that the press is ignorant of the impact they can have on national policy. Knowing the impact, the tone of the stories they present is clearly meant to influence a negative public reaction and drive policy to match their world view.

There are plenty valid things that need to be criticised. But along with the criticism, they need to be offering viable solutions. The liberal media is great at pointing fingers, but not so great at offering viable alternatives.

A positive or neutral "spin" could still sell.

J. L. Krueger said...

Stephen,

I'm not liberal enough. Probably could only get hired by FOX, but they don't seem to have a shortage.

I am seriously considering a book when I leave here. I have a mountain of material.