Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Making America safe for the dumb

Some more routine-but-not-great journalism that does exactly what routine journalism is supposed to do: keep the gears of public information lubricated. Until the end, which we'll discuss in a moment.

Court protects possible proof of torture
Administration told to preserve evidence sought by Gitmo detainee
A federal appeals court in Washington issued a preliminary order on Tuesday directing the Bush administration to preserve any evidence that might show that a former Baltimore resident was tortured during his three years in secret CIA detention.

The order, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, gave the government until Dec. 20 to respond to a court filing last week that accused the CIA of torturing Majid Khan, 27.

Khan is among 15 high-value detainees who once were held by the CIA but are now in military custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And so on for eight grafs of nice, basic information, Except for the hed (I count "Gitmo" as another measurable sign of the steady tabloidization of journalism, and I wish grownup newspapers would stop using it), all's fine. Right up to the subhed and the next four grafs:

Tuesday's developments
• Bloomberg News reported that Iraq's government has asked the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of U.S.-led forces in the country for the final time and said the Iraqi army intends to take full control of the country by the end of 2008.
• A suicide car bomber killed two guards at a checkpoint near the home and offices of two prominent politicians, one a secular Shiite, the other Sunni. Both were out of the country at the time.
• An anti-al-Qaida Sunni sheik who was promoting national unity was killed along with his nephew in a shooting near Tal Afar.
• In Basra, the bullet-riddled bodies of a Christian woman and her brother were found in a garbage dump on Monday, police and church officials said Tuesday. McClatchy Newspapers reported that the city's Christian archbishop canceled the celebration of Christmas to protest the deaths.

Holy Mudhead, mackerel! Majid Khan was arrested in Pakistan, kept somewhere mysterious by the CIA and then sent to Guantanamo Bay, but those "developments" are from the completely unrelated U.S. war in Iraq! You guys letting John Bolton fill in on the wire desk on Tuesday evenings these days?

Seriously. There's no evidence (yet) that you get a provable increase in the dumbs from this specific blunder, though there are good indications that how you talk about security issues affects how your readers process news about security issues (and how willing they are to hand over their rights for the duration if you scare them in the right way). And -- normative hat [on] -- that's a good argument for digging in your heels against the evil lure of packaging all That Mideast Trivia under one convenient hed.

Just to say something nice about survey data for a change: The most interesting results of a survey often don't make the cut required for "horse race" coverage, meaning they go unremarked while political editors and the like ponder nonsignificant changes across dissimilar samples as if they were so many sheep livers. And some interesting long-term stuff is buried deep in the latest from CNN/Opinion Research (more about this later, assuming there's a chance to discuss a nice catch from the South Carolina Bureau's northern coastal office).

For instance, pretty consistently across the past 42 months or so, about 40% of respondents have said they're at least "somewhat concerned" when asked "How worried are you that you or someone in your family will become a victim of terrorism?" Americans are significantly less likely than they were in mid-October to say they think Iran is building a nuke -- but 61 percent still think it is.

And to make that last one even more fun, it's asked of only half the sample. The other half was asked whether the Bush administration "deliberately misled the American public about whether Iran was attempting to develop its own nuclear weapons," and more than half of that subsample said "yes." Go figure.

There isn't an immediately handy media cure. In the meantime, if we spent more time talking about the world in general, we probably wouldn't have to sound so frantic when it does come up. And it certainly wouldn't hurt if we could tell one category of event from another.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I personally think "Gitmo" is part of the relentless militarization - or, rather, military worship - of the country. Along with capitalizing not-so-random words like War Fighter, Nation, Flag, Soldier, and, for that matter, Terror.

But they'd probably just point to how many letters they save by using it.

7:19 PM, December 13, 2007  

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