Monday, May 23, 2005

A biased and misleading headline

After reading the New York Times report of the brutal treatment of two Afghan detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in late 2002, I was curious to see how the story would be played in the local paper. Some local critics of the paper would have you believe that such a story would get major coverage in order to shed a poor light on the U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

But what we got instead was a severely truncated AP story (here is a slightly fuller version from another paper) buried on page 4A of Saturday's paper that gives only the barest details of the story surrounded by official pronouncements from military and White House spokesmen saying that such mistreatment of prisoners is never tolerated.
And whoever put this story in the local paper gave it one of the most outrageously misleading and biased headlines I think I have ever seen:

Military bristles at newspaper's abuse report:
New York Times tale alleges prisoners repeatedly were abused

So from this headline you first get the impression that the military is denying the published reports - which they are not since the report is simply relaying information from the military's own investigation of the event. Next, it gives the impression that the story is based on an investigation by the New York Times and not the military itself - which is clearly untrue. And to top it off, it tries to make the reader think the abuses may not really have happened - it is a "tale" by the NYTimes that "alleges" that there was abuse.
The story itslelf was also conveniently edited in the local paper so that someone reading only this version would not even learn that the taxi driver who was abused died as a result of his mistreatment or that his interrogators believed that he was innocent.

The paper would have done better to just close its eyes and ignore this story than to run something as shamelessly misleading and inaccurate as this piece.
Whoever edited this story and wrote that headline clearly has an agenda to push. That should make some of the paper's noisiest critics very happy. It means they are staring to win their battle to turn the local media into a propaganda mill that does little more than churn out fluff pieces that have been officially approved by the Bush administration.

Perhaps this is a reaction to the harsh criticism leveled at the media as a result of the sloppy Newsweek story on Koran desecration, but it is a major disservice to the readers.

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