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Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Police attempt to smear man they killed

In Anaheim, the police murder of a young man has brought protests that are ongoing even as I write this. Note the back-handed attempt at incrimination in this story:
"Anaheim Police Sgt. Bob Dunn said a single officer shot Diaz and a "gun was not recovered at the scene." But, Dunn, said officers reported Diaz tossed away items as he ran. One of those items was recovered, but it was not a gun."

The fact that Diaz allegedly "tossed away items" is completely irrelevant to the story. Here's the simple fact: No weapon of any kind was found. Here's another fact: Even if he had thrown away a gun, unless they claim that he pointed it at the police or anyone in a threatening manner, the police didn't have the slightest right to shoot him. Possessing a gun and running away from a policeman is not even a crime, much less a death-penalty offense.

Friday, July 20, 2012


The Bulgarian bombing: the semantics of a smear

Yesterday a bus filled with Israeli tourists was bombed in Bulgaria. Today's San Jose Mercury News (online at the New York Times) carries the story. The Times headline (unlike the article, which we'll get to in a minute) is at least somewhat honest, if not still biased by headlining accusations instead of facts: "Hezbollah Is Blamed for Attack on Israeli Tourists in Bulgaria." The Mercury News headline, the major page one headline on the top right, screams the pseudo-factual "Suicide attack linked to Iran", leaving out "allegedly" or anything which would suggest to the reader that that "link" was made of anything but hot air.

The sub-head finally provides the nature of that link, but only as an afterthought: "Hezbollah cell targeting Israelis in retaliation for assassination of nuclear scientists, U.S. says." Of course the "U.S." said no such thing, only unnamed U.S. officials.

The article, which is the same as the Times article, starts with another simple declarative statement:

American officials on Thursday identified the suicide bomber responsible for a deadly attack on Israeli vacationers here as a member of a Hezbollah cell that was operating in Bulgaria and looking for such targets, corroborating Israel’s assertions and making the bombing a new source of tension with Iran.
"Claimed" would be the proper word to start this sentence; "identified" implies a certainty which wasn't present. And assertions by one person cannot "corroborate" assertions by another person. They can "agree" with them, but, until and unless they both represent some sort of proof, and that proof is independent (that is, they both aren't just reporting the same proof), it still isn't "corroboration."

The next paragraph is more of the same:

One senior American official said the current American intelligence assessment was that the bomber, who struck Wednesday, killing five Israelis, had been "acting under broad guidance" to hit Israeli targets when opportunities presented themselves, and that the guidance had been given to Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, by Iran, its primary sponsor. Two other American officials confirmed that Hezbollah was behind the bombing, but declined to provide additional details.
Once again, assertions by "one senior American official" cannot be "confirmed" by two others. The only thing "confirmed" is that this is the assertion that the U.S. government wants to make. "Asserted" would be a great word to use in this paragraph, but you'll look in vain for it.

In the next paragraph we find out that U.S. officials are, in fact, mind readers:

The attacks, the official said, were in retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, for which Iran has blamed Israeli agents — an accusation that Israel has neither confirmed nor denied.
So not only does this official "know" who did it, he or she knows exactly why they did it as well. Note also the omission. Not only has Iran blamed Israeli agents for these murders, but that claim has been widely agreed to, even by other "U.S. officials." In this article, however, there is no indication that it is anything other than wild assertions by Iran.

Also part of the smear - the fact that we finally read a response from the Iranian government in the 11th paragraph:

Iranian officials condemned the attack and all acts of terrorism. “Terrorism endangers the lives of innocents,” said a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Ramin Mehmanparast, according to Iran’s state Arabic-language television channel, Al Alam.
It would have been simple enough in the very first paragraph to include a phrase like "claims that have been denied by Iran." Instead, that denial waits until long after the reader's mind has been shaped, and long after the part of the story that will have been broadcast by most broadcast news organizations.

All of this would constitute an attempt at a smear even if, in the end, these accusations turned out to be true. But, as it turns out, that seems highly unlikely, as new reports come out. Even while still asserting the same Hezbollah link, these latest articles now report:

Bulgarian news media reported that the bomber was Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish national and former Guantanamo Bay detainee. Ghezali was captured by US forces during a 2001 battle in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, and was released from Guantanamo in 2004.
And who were the people in Tora Bora? They were, of course, Al Qaeda, allies of Osama bin Laden, Sunni militants diametrically opposed to Hezbollah and Iran. A group which was, as is well known, originally trained and funded by the CIA. So "Suicide attack linked to U.S." would likely be a far more accurate headline than "Suicide attack linked to Iran." However that headline wouldn't exactly serve the purposes of U.S. foreign policy.

Speaking of which, the Times does include one more interesting fact, but, unsurprisingly, only in the 23rd paragraph (a paragraph which didn't make it into the San Jose Mercury News and likely very many other papers):

The speaker of Iran's Parliament, Ali Larijani, criticized the United States for not condemning the bombing in Damascus on Wednesday that struck at President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, killing three senior defense officials. "By not condemning the assassination in Syria, the Americans show that they believe in good assassinations and bad assassinations," he said, according to the Fars news agency.

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