Tuesday, September 27, 2005


carbomb"Man said to be Zarqawi's No. 2 killed" says the Reuters Headline. It runs with a photo of a smoking automobile. Was Zarqawi's guy in the car? I click on the picture to bring up the related story. Nope, just another random car bomb. Why did Reuters run that photo? Don't they have a photo of Abu Azzam, the man said to have been killed? Hmmm.

I close the photo window and return to reading the main story. "BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's second-in-command in Iraq, Abu Azzam, was shot dead in Baghdad this week, the U.S. military said on Tuesday, a potential blow to the group at the heart of Iraq's insurgency." Again, Hmmmm -- a potential blow? I wonder what an actual blow would be like?

A few paragraphs later: "The death may mark progress against militants but attacks continued unabated." This is a prime example of the al Reuters classic butt-spliced compound sentence. The form is this: <qualified good news> but <unqualified bad news>. The deaths may mark progress ... but the attacks continue unabated.

Next paragraph, another way to look at the story as bad news: "It is uncertain how much intelligence Azzam's killing will deliver, particularly since it appears he was shot without being interrogated."

A bit later: "Zarqawi, a Jordanian, is allied to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network. His group has claimed many of the deadliest attacks in Iraq, and has pledged all-out war against Iraq's majority Shi'ite population, an effort to provoke civil war and drive the country further into chaos." This one is subtler, can you find the spin in this one? It's the word "further" in the phrase "to ... drive the country further into chaos." The implications being that even without Zarqawi's civil war (which I don't think he has the leverage to start) Iraq is already in "chaos". This is a running theme of Reuters coverage -- that the situation in Iraq is spiralling out of control -- chaos.

If you look at the photo that Reuters chose to run with the story you will see a nice metaphor for the situation in Iraq and Reuters coverage of it. In the foreground is the smoking ruin of one car blown up by the terrorists. In the background, two Iraqi fire trucks, several Iraqi firemen with hoses and a crowd of rubberneckers standing on the sidewalk. The photo focuses on the burning car -- and the fire trucks, firemen and people are just background. Reuters focuses on the individual acts of violence and ignores the background of political progress and an Iraqi populace who increasingly look to the new government to deal with the growingly-isolated terrorists.

People say that Reuters ignores good news from Iraq, but this is far from the truth. The news service has a special office just for dealing with positive stories from Iraq. In the office is a single desk holding a computer in an airtight glass box. In the box with the computer is a torque wrench and a supply of adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions. When good news arrives from Iraq a highly-trained operator slides his hands into the rubber gloves on the side of the box and uses the wrench to affix qualifiers to the story. Only after enough words and torque have been applied to spin the story properly can the box be opened and the story removed.

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