Beyond Bias: When the Media Fabricates News

A recent Gallup poll found that 56% of Americans think the media's coverage of events in Iraq is inaccurate, nearly two thirds of those believing that the media portray the situation as worse than it is. A biased, always bad-news-baring mainstream media trying to discredit our war effort is a disgrace. But worse is the blatant manufacturing of news through editorials disguised as reports.

A case in point was the "reporting" in the Los Angeles Times on the execution of Saddam Hussein.

While even liberal bastions such as the New York Times and the Washington Post ran objective headlines -- "Dictator Who Ruled Iraq with Violence is Hanged for Crimes Against Humanity," and "Saddam Hussein is Put to Death," respectively -- the Los Angeles Times loaded its headline with editorial content: "Hussein Executed -- And Iraq Braces."

Hussein was indeed executed, but the idea that "Iraq Braces" is pregnant with anti-war innuendo. A less subtle headline might have read: "Hussein Executed -- One More Bad Event In A Bad War."

To back that up, the Times ran a second A-section story headlined: "Impact of Hussein's death likely to be limited." Not even characterized as "analysis," this story "reported" that Hussein's execution "seemed to be much less than the historic turning point many once had anticipated." (As a former writing professor once counseled, beware the passive word "seemed.")

The Times -- perhaps following the example of the Iraq Study Group -- cherry-picked its experts to offer but one point of view.

It quoted a former State Department official that the Hussein execution was "not what it might have been."

And a spokesman for the U.S. Institute for Peace that "I just don't see this as a big turning point."

And someone from the Endowment for International Peace who called the execution a mere "sideshow."

And, as a topper, "Mideast specialist" Juan Cole, the über-leftist University of Michigan history professor who has likened the state of Israel to a puppeteer with a fearsome "level of control over a branch of the United States government." Cole warned that Hussein's execution would likely provoke violence as, "To the Sunnis, it will look like just one more slap in the face."    

Presenting a committed leftist like Juan Cole as an academic offering impartial scholarly analysis is bad enough. But the Times' "report" offers not one alternative view.

Couldn't find one?  The Times could have asked former CIA Director Jim Woolsey, who called Saddam's execution "a positive watershed." Or military expert Ralph Peters, who characterized the hanging as "an important milestone." (As opposed to the grim milestones the MSM endlessly "reports.") One significant impact Hussein's execution will have, Peters wrote, is that "no dictator will sleep quite as soundly now."

The Times could also have included "man-in-the-street" opinions from Baghdad -- like that of Suad Shakir, who, according to the Washington Post, said that "People will be relieved" by Saddam's death. Or of a Baghdad barber who said of Saddam: "He does not deserve to be alive."

But when you're writing an editorial -- including one in disguise as news -- you seek authority in support of your view. 

Let's concede that there's reason for bad feelings in your gut over the execution of Saddam -- and over Iraq generally. A video showing thugs of Iranian agent and terrorist Moqtada Sadr rebuking the former dictator as he stood on the gallows could make you wonder who we're fighting for. So could this recent report about our Iraqi "allies":
As politicians, religious leaders and other soldiers watched, five Iraqi soldiers bit the heads off live frogs while a sixth slit a live rabbit's stomach and "ate its heart before tossing the carcass to his comrades to chew on."
All in "a display of courage."

You can pardon Americans for a lack of enthusiasm at the thought of blood and treasure spent on liberating barbarians.

But none of that excuses an agenda-driven media nor rehabilitates the self-inflicted damage to that media's reputation.  

In a footnote: Four days after the Times' report, the paper ran a small wire service story which contained this observation: In reaction to Hussein's execution, Sunni Arabs "have taken to the streets in mainly peaceful demonstrations."

So much for Juan Cole's Mideast expertise.

Steven Zak is an attorney and writer in California. He has written for publications including the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
A recent Gallup poll found that 56% of Americans think the media's coverage of events in Iraq is inaccurate, nearly two thirds of those believing that the media portray the situation as worse than it is. A biased, always bad-news-baring mainstream media trying to discredit our war effort is a disgrace. But worse is the blatant manufacturing of news through editorials disguised as reports.

A case in point was the "reporting" in the Los Angeles Times on the execution of Saddam Hussein.

While even liberal bastions such as the New York Times and the Washington Post ran objective headlines -- "Dictator Who Ruled Iraq with Violence is Hanged for Crimes Against Humanity," and "Saddam Hussein is Put to Death," respectively -- the Los Angeles Times loaded its headline with editorial content: "Hussein Executed -- And Iraq Braces."

Hussein was indeed executed, but the idea that "Iraq Braces" is pregnant with anti-war innuendo. A less subtle headline might have read: "Hussein Executed -- One More Bad Event In A Bad War."

To back that up, the Times ran a second A-section story headlined: "Impact of Hussein's death likely to be limited." Not even characterized as "analysis," this story "reported" that Hussein's execution "seemed to be much less than the historic turning point many once had anticipated." (As a former writing professor once counseled, beware the passive word "seemed.")

The Times -- perhaps following the example of the Iraq Study Group -- cherry-picked its experts to offer but one point of view.

It quoted a former State Department official that the Hussein execution was "not what it might have been."

And a spokesman for the U.S. Institute for Peace that "I just don't see this as a big turning point."

And someone from the Endowment for International Peace who called the execution a mere "sideshow."

And, as a topper, "Mideast specialist" Juan Cole, the über-leftist University of Michigan history professor who has likened the state of Israel to a puppeteer with a fearsome "level of control over a branch of the United States government." Cole warned that Hussein's execution would likely provoke violence as, "To the Sunnis, it will look like just one more slap in the face."    

Presenting a committed leftist like Juan Cole as an academic offering impartial scholarly analysis is bad enough. But the Times' "report" offers not one alternative view.

Couldn't find one?  The Times could have asked former CIA Director Jim Woolsey, who called Saddam's execution "a positive watershed." Or military expert Ralph Peters, who characterized the hanging as "an important milestone." (As opposed to the grim milestones the MSM endlessly "reports.") One significant impact Hussein's execution will have, Peters wrote, is that "no dictator will sleep quite as soundly now."

The Times could also have included "man-in-the-street" opinions from Baghdad -- like that of Suad Shakir, who, according to the Washington Post, said that "People will be relieved" by Saddam's death. Or of a Baghdad barber who said of Saddam: "He does not deserve to be alive."

But when you're writing an editorial -- including one in disguise as news -- you seek authority in support of your view. 

Let's concede that there's reason for bad feelings in your gut over the execution of Saddam -- and over Iraq generally. A video showing thugs of Iranian agent and terrorist Moqtada Sadr rebuking the former dictator as he stood on the gallows could make you wonder who we're fighting for. So could this recent report about our Iraqi "allies":
As politicians, religious leaders and other soldiers watched, five Iraqi soldiers bit the heads off live frogs while a sixth slit a live rabbit's stomach and "ate its heart before tossing the carcass to his comrades to chew on."
All in "a display of courage."

You can pardon Americans for a lack of enthusiasm at the thought of blood and treasure spent on liberating barbarians.

But none of that excuses an agenda-driven media nor rehabilitates the self-inflicted damage to that media's reputation.  

In a footnote: Four days after the Times' report, the paper ran a small wire service story which contained this observation: In reaction to Hussein's execution, Sunni Arabs "have taken to the streets in mainly peaceful demonstrations."

So much for Juan Cole's Mideast expertise.

Steven Zak is an attorney and writer in California. He has written for publications including the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.