Saturday, May 13, 2006

All the Opinions that are Fit to Print

Summary: It used to be that news was in the news section of the newspaper, while opinion was clearly delineated in the opinion section. The breach of this code of conduct is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the news media’s opinion on Iraq. In this post I dissect some of the ‘news’ that is being reported about Iraq. defines "news" this way:

news Audio pronunciation of "news" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (nz, nyz)
pl.n. (used with a sing. verb)
    1. Information about recent events or happenings, especially as reported by newspapers, periodicals, radio, or television.
    2. A presentation of such information, as in a newspaper or on a newscast.

Pretty simple, don't you think? If you are a news reporter, you report what happens.

Not what might happen. Not what you think will happen. Not your opinion of what happened. Not even just that side of the story that supports your opinion of what you wish happened or want to happen. All of this stuff belongs on the opinion page.

The news media has been transforming itself into the opinion media—or better yet, the make-the-news media—for quite some time now, but it seems that their animosity for democracy, liberty, and particularly Operation Iraqi Freedom have caused them to throw caution to the wind in their Gadarene rush to ensure that their opinion reigns supreme.

One of the ways the media frequently accomplish this is through using polls as propaganda. This has recently been dubbed as “polloganda”. Polls are frequently slanted in the direction of the opinions the 'newsmakers' have. I have been asked to participate in several polls over the years where none of the politically charged options reflected my view. “Oh, I’ll just mark you down as I don’t know, then” is usually the pollster’s response.

Here are three additional ways (that I found in less than 20 minutes of searching) that the news media affects and makes the news rather than simply reporting it.

Prophetic Yearning. The San Jose Mercury News recently published a news story entitled “Support for War May be Fading in Congress”. Oh, how they hope this would be true! The article begins with the following ‘news’ paragraph:

“If Congress ever turns against the war in Iraq, analysts may look back at this week as a turning point.”

You can just imagine the ‘reporters’ of this ‘news’ story just salivating. The rest of the article discusses the never-before-revealed fact that John Kerry is against having troops in Iraq and that “…three Republicans in the House of Representatives endorsed a resolution calling for a robust and lengthy congressional debate on Iraq.”. Then to support their ‘repinions’, the ‘news reporters’ vaguely cite several recent polls that supposedly ‘prove’ that a “majority of Americans turned against the war months ago.”

Hiding the Positive. In an effort to place as negative a spin as possible on the news coming out of Iraq, AFP reported on May 12th that “US Terminates Part of Major Iraq Hospital Building Contract”. What is actually happening, as the report states at the bottom instead of the top, is that the contract is getting re-bid to Iraqi contractors in an effort to cut costs, reduce one level of management, and provide more impetus to a growing Iraqi economy.

The fact that Iraqi contractors are now able to take on projects of enormous magnitude is in and of itself newsworthy, as it demonstrates a trend of progress that most Americans are completely unaware of. Additionally, the original US contractor had completed 12 of 20 hospitals and 20 of 150 clinics had been completed, and that work on many others is ongoing.

But in its follow-the-biased-herd mentality, AFP accentuates the negative. Readers glancing through the news would never have had any idea that something positive is happening here.

Seeking out corroboration for existing bias. In a not even cleverly disguised propaganda stunt to further propagate its own opinions, entitled “Murtha Predicts U.S. Pullout from Iraq,” the AP recently solicited an interview with Congressman John Murtha, and then reported it as news.

Such newsworthy items presented in the article include Murtha’s predictions that Democrats will win control of congress and that President Bush would have to bring more than half the troops home before the elections to get Republican voters back on his side. To this, the AP adds as news the solicited opinion of Representative Murtha that President Bush’s “biggest problem he has had is admitting he made a mistake in going in there in the first place."

I think it would be nice to solicit an interview on this subject with, oh let’s say Nuri al-Maliki, Georges Sada, or Jalal Talabani. Then we might actually see whether Iraq thinks it was a mistake to send US troops to Iraq or when they think we should come home. Additionally, such an interview might give Americans a better perspective on the successes that are being achieved every day, rather than a marginally informed opinion of such. But I guess an interview with Iraqis who actually work with US and coalition diplomats and troops wouldn’t be newsworthy.

If newspapers moved all of their opinions to the opinion page, their news sections would be small indeed. It would also make far fewer Americans confused about what's really going on in Iraq.


Elizabeth said...

These problems you point our are due to sloppiness and laziness as much as bias...I used to critique the NY Times in my old blog and so often I came across stories where the reporters just cobbled together press releases or relied heavily on one source...

Frank Staheli said...


Good point. I will concede that you are correct on this in many instances. I talk about a conversation (somewhat) on this topic with my wife in the post "When Good People Do Nothing (Part 1)."

Frank Staheli said...


Here is something I just ran across in the book "An Army of Davids" by Glenn Reynolds that supports your thesis (page 93):

"...even top-of-the-line news institutions like the New York Times are...reducing staffs, cutting...foreign bureaus, and relying more on wire services... The real appeal of this reduction to management is that it's cheap, while reporting is expensive. [This] has caused them to sharply reduce their core competency of news gathering and reporting."

I am frustrated by this same phenomenon in my local newspapers and tv news reports as well.