Thursday, June 15, 2006

A few words on Haditha, and why I'm fairly sure the media version a crock

I first heard about the Haditha "massacre" when the evening news drooled about it on Memorial Day. Needless to say, I was furious (at the news, not the Marines--more on that in a minute). Since that time, I've been doing research on the incident, and the account below matches up pretty well with what I've discovered elsewhere. The "blood money" case involving British soldiers is especially telling, as it involved "witnesses" who were paid for their testimony, which was later proved false (Links to come later; I'm on dial-up at this particular moment).

My uncle (USAF Ret.) likes to include me when he forwards interesting articles. One that came in recently pointed me to in the this article. There's way too much good stuff for me to pull quotes from the article, but it won't take more than a few minutes to read. I suggest that if you're interested in the marines at all, you take that time to acquaint yourself with the facts of the case.

Now, as to why the news coverage of the event so infuriated me:

Every first-year journalism student knows that when presenting a story, you start with the facts before moving to the emotional gut-punch. To begin with an emotionally-charged quote that sheds no light on what happened is not only poor form, but downright unethical. ABCNews, when it first presented the Haditha story, opened with a quote from a soldier's mother. She tearfully related how her son was suffering from PTSD because he had to clean up bodies after the alleged massacre. (Please note that according to the article linked above, the soldier in question did not claim to have PTSD until he was arrested for drunkenly crashing his pick-up truck into a building.) After this quote, the report cut straight to video that purported to show the bodies of the alleged victims. Not only is the video itself highly suspect (again, see the article above), it acted as an emotional catalyst for the viewer. The package was clearly designed to manipulate the viewer into a state of emotional distress before the salient facts--that allegations of misconduct by Marines were under investigation--were even discussed. To frame such an important story in such an irresponsible manner is not only irresponsible, but just plain bad journalism. But the most damning thing of all is that this story led the 6:30 p.m. newscast on Memorial Day. The timing was obviously deliberate, and one has to wonder just what went on in the planning meeting for that night's newscast. Speaking as a journalist and as an editor, there is no good reason why the story could not have been held for a day or even a week. The investigation was still at least a month away from being finished, the sources (see article) were suspect at best, and the allegations of what happened are muddy, unclear and confusing.

One of my journalism professors once stated in class that a journalist's job is to not only report the facts, but to tell the reader/viewer "what they mean." With all due respect, I beg to differ. A well-written story assumes that if you're smart enough to read, you're smart enough to comprehend what you're reading. Journalism--good journalism--is based on gravitas and logos, or authority (knowledge) and appeals to logical thinking. The ABCNews story functioned entirely on ethos and pathos, the appearance of authority and appeals to emotional thinking. If a story cannot be presented without blatant emotional manipulation and distraction from the facts, then it should not be presented at all until those "tools" are not necessary. I'm not stupid, Mr. Anchorperson, and I don't appreciate you treating me like I am. I'm getting my news elsewhere, and I'm going to get it from people who respect me enough not to disguise their opinion as unbiased fact.