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Friday, June 08, 2007


 

Skewing the news with anecdotal reporting


There's nothing wrong with anecdotal reporting, but it's important to realize that it's a mainstay of propagandistic reporting. The problem comes when people recognize it as such when coming from the right or the left, but seem to think the "mainstream" media is immune from using such reporting to push a political agenda. Of course it isn't.

It's a question that came to mind when I read this op-ed from Los Angeles Times staff writer Tony Perry. It starts like this:

Under a sweltering Iraqi sky, the general asked for questions from his troops. Many were reluctant, but one stepped forward.

Marine Lance Cpl. Jack Kessel, 19, of Raleigh, N.C., asked about something that had been gnawing at him as he and his buddies go about the business of winning hearts and minds in Al-Anbar province.

"How are we supposed to fight a war when people back home say we've already lost?" he asked.
You damn peaceniks! Demoralizing the troops! How dare you!

Before we read any further, though, isn't it obvious that there's more here than meets the eye. For starters, how many Marines, even ones capable of facing death of a daily basis, would have the courage to stand up publicly in front of a General and say, "When are we getting out of this shithole?" Not many.

Later on, the reporter shares his conclusion from five trips to Iraq:

After my fifth trip to Iraq to report on Marines, I've concluded that, at least among Marines, morale remains high - high not despite the public's disaffection with the war but possibly because of it. The declining poll numbers and rising political upheaval appear to have driven Marines closer together.
Well, maybe so. But Marines are only one-sixth of all the troops fighting in Iraq, and we all know that Marines have a gung-ho militaristic attitude far surpassing the other services. So talking only to Marines is hardly the way to get a picture of the attitude of the troops as a whole.

But there's more. Despite the reporter's claim about Marine morale and the quote which leads off the article, not until the 15th paragraph, 2/3 of the way through the article, do we read this:

In my many discussions with Marines, Lance Cpl. Kessel was one of the few who raised the issue of support for the war.
So the lead of the article was entirely atypical, chosen by the reporter to make his point, not because it represented some kind of widespread opinion.

The irony is that this op-ed article appeared in my local paper on the very same paper that this article, about the death of a soldier from the area, appeared, carrying the headline: "Friend says slain soldier's faith in war was waning." We read:

Arnie Becker, a longtime friend of the family who knew [Army Sgt. Andrew Higgins, a Hayward soldier who died Tuesday while fighting in Iraq] since birth said Higgins fully supported the invasion of Iraq during the beginning of the war. But as time went on, he became deeply concerned that the war "was only fermenting the insurgency and creating needless deaths of both Americans and Iraqis," Becker said Higgins told family and friends.
Another anecdotal news item, with a far different message.


Why stop here? There's more...

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