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Biased Reporting on the War in Iraq March 27, 2006

Posted by papundit in Uncategorized.
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In an article which appeared in the American Spectator and the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto highlighted biased reporting on the war in Iraq. Taranto commented on a misleading headline and the attitude it represents:

"In October the Baltimore Sun ran a story under the headline, 'Little Outcry Raised on Iraq.' The subhead read: 'Md. deaths push toll near 2,000, but public is distracted, experts say.' Consider what this headline tells you about the assumptions that prevail in the newsroom. 'Little Outcry Raised on Iraq.' Why is the absence of an outcry a story? News consists of the unexpected–man bites dog, not dog bites man. 'Little Outcry Raised on Iraq' means that, in the view of the Baltimore Sun, an outcry is to be expected when the country is at war. If there isn't much of one, it means something is wrong: 'Public is distracted, experts say.'"

This attitude speaks volumes about elite perceptions of the public. If they don't protest, it's because they are distracted and not because they don't agree with the protesters. If they don't vote, it's because they are apathetic and not because they find the candidate endorsed by the paper wooden and uninspiring.

Taranto noted,

"It's easy to list examples of media bias against the war effort. Just from last autumn: The battle of Tal Afar got far less coverage than the artificial 'milestone' of 2,000 Americans dead (which includes suicides and accidents as well as combat fatalities). In November, Rep. John Murtha, a longtime war critic, received endless attention for his proposal of immediate withdrawal; Sen. Joe Lieberman's declaration that he believed America was winning was largely ignored."

Reasonable people can disagree on the war, and the media should report on setbacks as well as victories. Throughout history, there has been tension between government and the press during wartime. Some leaders sought to censor bad news while journalists wanted the public to know the whole picture.

As citizens in a democracy, we have the right to know the facts and to make an informed decision when we vote. If the press focuses on negative news, this approach will erode our trust of the media.

It may already have. To that end, Taranto listed some telling poll results,

"In a Pew Center survey conducted in early November, just after the indictment of Scooter Libby, only half of those polled said the press was fair to the Bush administration. The president's approval rating in the same poll was just 36%, so this was far from a pro-Bush poll."

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