Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fun with agitprop

Some design/presentation/editing issues are ideologically neutral. Quite a few aren't. Editors need to be careful they don't mistake the latter for the former in their urge to "package" "news" to "help" the "readers."

We've complained before about the ill-advised "WAR & TERROR DIGEST," which links two unrelated concepts for some unspecified form of convenience. It's bad enough when it sticks exclusively to "war," which seems to mean the one in Iraq, and a form of "terror" that's narrowly limited to things related to the Sept. 11 perps. When it starts to drag in other actors and conflicts, it's basically carrying out the functions of the White House press office, and that's not what we have an independent press for. Here's today's example:

Iran launches new probe into pair
TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's judiciary has launched new investigations into the cases of two detained Iranian Americans charged with endangering national security, citing fresh evidence, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The investigations into Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh have been broadened, said judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi.

Quick, which category does Iran's inept and ill-advised detention of these folks fall into: war or terror? The short answer is neither. It's a different sort of interstate p***ing match. It's deplorable, sure, but when we move every deplorable thing done by every actor we dislike into the category of "terrorism," we're opening the definition far beyond anything we can sustain. The reader is left with several potential conclusions, none of them mutually exclusive:
1) The newspaper thinks All Those People Look Alike
2) The newspaper is a willing propaganda tool of the administration
3) The newspaper doesn't think stuff that happened before yesterday is relevant to stuff that will happen tomorrow and doesn't think its readers do either

Bad lot of choices there. Futurely, let's try to put a bit more thought into the briefs packages.

(Does it actually make a difference if news reports dump stuff at random into the WAR ON TERROR category? The short answer is yes. More later.)

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