October 01, 2003

Reuters Watch

From Reuters: Police Open Fire to Break Up Iraqi Jobless Protest:

Police opened fire on Wednesday to break up crowds of angry jobless Iraqis -- including former soldiers -- demonstrating in Baghdad and Mosul as frustration at the country's economic woes boiled over. In another of the virtually daily attacks on occupying forces, a female U.S. soldier was killed and three of her colleagues were wounded by a bomb near a former palace of ousted leader Saddam Hussein used by the U.S. military as an army base.
You might think from those first two sentences that US troops did the shooting. But if you go here, it is clear that Iraqis did the shooting. That being the case, the first two sentences of the Reuters article have absolutely nothing to do with each other. The second sentence is completely unrelated to both the first sentence and to the headline.

Also, did the Iraqi police shoot at people or did they fire their guns in the air? Who knows? The reporter does, but he doesn't feel like telling us.

The Reuters piece doesn't lie. It's just sloppy and ambiguous. It misleadingly links unrelated facts, and it leaves the critical details fuzzy.

A high school student could report better than this.


UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, the second link in this post no longer points where it did when I posted it. The url at the other end is no longer related to this story.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 1, 2003 02:51 PM
Comments

Michael,
I know how you have to try and appear so impartial and non-judgmental for your site. But who are we bullshittin, Reuters does this ALL the time. They merge events and headlines to purposely make them misleading or to blunt a story that hurts the agenda they are pushing.

I have read so many examples of it already that its just a given at this point. The rule not the exception.

If Reuters reported something negative about a suicide murderer killing a 7 month year old baby in Israel without any justification implicit or over that would be an exception.

If Reuters reported on something positive about the Coalition forces in Iraq that would be an excpetion.

Your analysis is just par for the course. If you read Reuters carefully every day you could fill a library with examples like the one you cited.

GET USED TO IT!

MIKE

Posted by: Mike at October 1, 2003 04:04 PM

Mike,

Not everyone has figured that out yet. And I'm here to help.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 1, 2003 04:19 PM

Mike,

Rueters hires local and only selected residents as their reporters. Obviously in case of Iraq, Gaza, West Bank, Pakistan, etc. this automatically guarantees a biased reporting. On top of this Rueters throws in their very sloppy, by now I believe it's intentional, editing.

The net result is a misleading and sometimes lying by omission reporting, a sample of which you are quoting.

Let's hope it will help few people to figure that out.

Posted by: marek at October 1, 2003 04:33 PM

Michael,
The Iraqi cops appeared to be shooting ahead of themselves toward someone from what I remember of the incident when shown on TV. They had come under attack and only started shooting when the crowd started to torch cars.

If Herr Reuter were alive today -- he was played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie -- he might want his name taken off the company.

John

Posted by: John Costello at October 1, 2003 08:40 PM

This doesn't surprise me. Reuters is just applying to America, the same journalistic standards (or lack thereof) that it applies to Israel in its reports.

For the last 3 years, Reuters, AFP and the BBC have been on a relentless assault against Israel. I don't think any person could keep track of the number of instances, but from my memory, some of them include:

  • Mixing two separate stories where one has Israeli victims of terror, and the other has Palestinian "militants" killed by Israel, into one article, which is used to imply moral equivalence.
  • Reporting whenever Palestinians are killed by their own people (as collaborators) or by accident but not mentioning who killed them - i.e "3 Palestinians were killed today in the gaza strip"
  • Often omitting the fact that a Palestinian was a combatant
Posted by: Jono at October 1, 2003 11:39 PM

You are correct.

A high school student could indeed report better than this.

The prime difference is that the high school student does not have an agenda.

Routers does.

Posted by: Roark at October 2, 2003 06:29 AM

It is my understanding that they were firing into the air... notice the article does not mention any casualties....

Posted by: Thomas at October 2, 2003 11:55 AM

Indeed, the distortion (bias doesn't begin to describe it) of Reuters -- at least on international stories involving the US or Israel -- is amazing and possibly quite pernicious.

Even more alarming, AP isn't much better on certain stories. For those who travel a bit in the US, check the international news in the local papers. You'll find 99% of the copy is just Reuters, AP, or Washington Post or NYT news services. Meanwhile, some rant and rave about concentration in the radio business, and the new FCC policy, etc. There are far more radio stations, and far more diversity in all senses among them, than in the "hard" news sections of almost all newspapers.

It's interesting that in general Reuters does a far better job on hard business and tech news -- it's main business. Of course they'd have to -- who would read their stuff if they covered these topics like they "covered" Israel or Iraq?

Posted by: IceCold at October 2, 2003 09:05 PM

"Police opened fire on Wednesday to break up crowds of angry jobless Iraqis -- including former soldiers -- demonstrating in Baghdad and Mosul as frustration at the country's economic woes boiled over....[and on to sentence 2, about U.S. military casualties.]

To which Michael Totten responds: "You might think from those first two sentences that US troops did the shooting."

Frankly, the only thing that came anywhere near preparing me to think that U.S. troops did the shooting was your comment to the effect that I'd infer such a thing. But when I read the article, I really had to wonder: had it not been your pre-suggestion, would I have jumped to any such conclusion?

Maybe it's more about your sloppy reading than their (admittedly) sloppy writing?

"But if you go here [link], it is clear that Iraqis did the shooting."

Speaking of sloppy: that link took me to a Yahoo news slideshow page that had nothing to with the shooting.

"That being the case, the first two sentences of the Reuters article have absolutely nothing to do with each other. The second sentence is completely unrelated to both the first sentence and to the headline."

Well, boo-hoo-hoo. How dare they just pour barely-related facts on us? I have to admit, though, even the American Newspaper of Record puts more than one story under a single headline.

"Also, did the Iraqi police shoot at people or did they fire their guns in the air? Who knows? The reporter does, but he doesn't feel like telling us."

How do you know what the reporter knows? The reporter might not have been close enough to tell. The difference between over people's heads and at people's heads can be a few degrees, and hard to discern if you aren't close enough to the gun to be deafened. Maybe the reporter, in the interests of accuracy, decided not to offer an opinion either way?

"A high school student could report better than this."

There's a short stretch of rock climbing on one of the Everest routes that's been rated at low difficulty in the usual terms. Someone once pointed out, however, that using any such measure at those altitudes ignores something important: rock-climbing under those circumstances is like being punched in the stomach, having a pitcher of ice water dumped over your head, then being asked to climb something that's usually easy for you. Whoever filed this story might have been very tired, and perhaps more than a little scared. You're not there. You're not a war correspondent. You're blogging in safety.

-michael turner
leap@gol.com

Posted by: Michael Turner at October 3, 2003 01:47 AM



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