26 April 2004
All frame, no picture
Phil Lucas, executive editor of the News Herald in Panama City, Florida, on creeping (and sometimes leaping) bias:
Four weeks ago the Israelis killed Ahmed Yassin, the Islamic religious leader who founded Hamas, one of the purposes of which is to kill Israelis. Some news reports called him "revered spiritual leader." Revered by whom? Israelis? Americans? Palestinians? Is there any doubt as to the reportersí opinion?
Virtually all news reports said he was "assassinated," which means murder, an illegal act. From the Israeli point of view, is it illegal to chop the head off a snake trying to strike you? Reporters could have written "executed," a word loaded in the other direction, implying legality and favoring the Israelis. Or they could have just written "killed" and let readers and viewers decide what is right and what is wrong.
Here's a line from an Associated Press story about the president's press conference last week. "Bush sidestepped at least two opportunities to say he wanted to apologize or take personal responsibility."
"Sidestepped?" "Opportunities?" Nobody sidesteps opportunities. You sidestep duck droppings on the sidewalk. Think this reporter has an opinion he wants to share? If he reveals this kind of blatant bias in any part of a news story, it casts a shadow over every word he writes.
USA Today wrote this: "Offered numerous chances to second-guess his approach to Iraq, he rejected them all."
Nobody "rejects" any "chances" worth taking. It defies human nature. As for "second-guessing," we donít need to guess whose opinion that is. The reporters' two names are in the byline. Assuming perhaps that their readers were too stupid to get it, the reporters used these words a few paragraphs down: "denied," "argued" and "conceded." All referred to Bush. These are words for the opinion pages, like the one you are on now, unless you draw no distinction between news and opinion, unless you believe your opinion is the news.
"The stories we tell," says Lucas, "define the nation." Some of our storytellers are manifestly intent upon defining us in the most negative terms they can manage.