The Mountain Philosopher has an interesting thought experiment he posed to his high school history class.
Given the above, as a newspaper editor or television news director, what is your responsibility when you uncover or are handed credible stories of abuse and/or atrocities. Do you print the story? Downplay the story? Make sure that it is only running along a more positive story? Please discuss with your parents.
The students were given a copy of the most recent prisoner abuse story, that being the NY Times story last Friday, May 20th, detailing abuse at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan, resulting in deaths of two detainees.
Yesterday, we circled up to compare notes. Here’s what they came up with, with yours truly trying not to steer, and only asking clarifying questions:
This is a great thought experiment, and I’d like to expand on it a little. This is the kind of decision a newspaper editor makes in real time, and John’s got some observations on that decision. They can be very tough to make.
What isn’t mentioned is the narrative frame of a story–the “story behind the story” that influences word choices, emphasis, and structure of a newspaper article. It’s the difference between Ann Coulter and Atrios reporting the same event, and influences the reaction to the article.
Also important and not mentioned is the trend over time. Arthur Chrenkoff spends a lot of time showing that the types of choices made by editors over time can cause an unbalanced viewpoint of what’s really going on.
Michael Yon, as I mentioned before, discusses “if it bleeds it leads” and relying on others’ reports from the front for information without context.
These are partial reasons, in addition to the more upstanding ones, why Abu Ghraib was hit on like a lab rat whacking the heroin lever a while back.
Another essential consideration for an editor is sourcing and credibility of the article. Newsweek’s getting flak due to a choice to run a story with an anonymous single source that proved to be blowing smoke up their collective tails–although the source said something someone wanted to hear. (We have that problem too–first reports are always wrong and always believed, and a person under stress or avarice will more likely tell you what he thinks you want to hear.)
There are some blogospheric references that add context to the effect of our notional editor’s decision: UNC’s rhetoric Prof. Cori Dauber’s working notes, Fletcher Prof. Richard Shultz’s torture references (scroll to end of post), and Jason van Steenwyk’s unique perspective as a veteran and financial journalist.
If you wanted to look at this in another direction, the reportage of the Maine explosion might be illustrative.
Finally, I would like to state for the record that I agree with Mr. DeVille that Pat Buchanan is an ass.
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