Tuesday, August 03, 2004

All the News that's Fit to Spin

High up in the New York Times' Sunday profile of Fuaad Ahmed al-Jawary, a Baghdad defense attorney, is a lovely bit of spin.

It might be hard to imagine that in a place where bombs keep blowing up and raw sewage splashes in the streets there would be a functioning legal system, complete with subpoenas, autopsies, objections, search warrants, evidence reports and public defenders.

Red flag: the missing subject in the copula sentence. "It might be hard" for whom to imagine this? Really, the answer is "the reporter and the editor." But the sentence structure draws the reader into the conspiracy. It's pure manipulation and editorializing.

This is pretty typical reporting for the Times, I've noticed. Every now and then the Times reporters will write on some positive development in Iraq. They're not going to ignore a "good story" even if it smacks of "good news." But always, near the top, you'll find the graph that tells you, this is the exception.

"We all know Iraq is a great big George Bush quagmire, don't we? We've told you that many times. Well, here's a bit of local color you'll enjoy, and you might mistake it for evidence of progress. But we're going to couch it in these terms just so you're sure not to falter in your faith in everything else we've been feeding you."

There's sewage in the streets of Bolivia and Bangladesh, too. Does it surprise the Times to learn that those countries have courts?

As for violence, it's bad, but most people in Iraq never get close to it personally (see the polls and surveys), and the Times' quip reminds me of the many Europeans I've encountered who assume that all Americans live in fear for their lives and get in shoot-outs every day because that's the bulk of what they see in their media (and Hollywood movies) about life in the U.S.

And frankly, if you've been getting your Iraq news solely from the Times and media outlets like it, you would think that way, and require that reassurance of your world-view that it was all a terrible mistake and we've ruined a good country.

It would have been just as easy, and more true, to write, "in a nation still rebuilding after decades of tyrannical repression, the Iraqis have reclaimed their legal system and, with the help and protection of the U.S., it is thriving."

But that would be too much like good news from Iraq.