When Headlines Mislead

I was visiting my mother-in-law in Ludington, Michigan during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and I read a letter to the editor in the December 28, 2007 issue of her local paper, “Ludington Daily News.” The letter was written by Phil DeVries, a soldier from our brave troops currently deployed in Afghanistan.

I have long wondered about the media coverage of the war--wondered why we only hear negative stories about what is going on there. It’s disappointing that our media cannot control their biases when providing us the “news” of the situation. This soldier’s letter to the editor really says it all:

When Headlines Don’t Speak the Truth

Greetings from Afghanistan. I hope this e-note finds everyone in good health and better spirits. I wish I could be a little closer to family this time of year, but geography and duty do not permit at this time.

Thank you for your kind support. We are doing well there and doing our best to make you all proud of us by spreading peace and stability in Afghanistan. While I cannot go into details, we’ve been very rough on the Taliban and we are making sure that 2008 will be an even worse year for them.

I have to admit that the biggest disappointments of this deployment have come from the U.S. media. It isn’t that I think they don’t understand what’s happening over here, I believe they are intentionally portraying everything they can in the worst possible light. Headlines are the most attention getting part of the news (and therefore the worst offenders of the truth). Here are two examples:

Example 1 headline—‘NATO: Bomber kills 1 Italian Soldier and 13 Others’. Sounds like a NATO aircraft dropped bombs that killed 14 friendly troops. Another friendly fire story right? Actual story—a Taliban suicide bomber detonated himself, killing one Italian soldier who was helping to rebuild a bridge, three Afghan adults and nine Afghan children. All of the civilians were innocent bystanders. Thus, the total of ‘others’ killed included the bomber himself. Please notice the headline didn’t mention anything about the Taliban killing innocent bystanders or children.

Example 2 headline—‘General Ban on Women’s Freedom in Afghanistan’. Sounds like the democracy our troops are supporting (President Karzai’s Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) cracked down on women freedoms across the country (i.e. General Ban on Women’s Freedom) right? Actual story? U.N. Secretary General Kim Ban Moon gave a speech praising Afghanistan for its progress on women’s rights in Afghanistan. Thus, some editor had to be pretty creative (and misleading) to shorten U.N. Secretary General Kim Ban Moon down to ‘General Ban.’ Then, by deleting anything mentioning that he gave a speech, the subject could then be connected with ‘on women’s freedom in Afghanistan’ to be factually correct and entirely misleading at the same time. You could get the truth only if you read the entire story. If you just read the headline, you got completely the wrong story.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had to explain just how badly off the media is and that while there are threats to our safety over here, the media severely hyperinflates the danger in order to sell itself better.

Isn’t that sad? I find this incredibly disheartening--that our media plays these kinds of games, using their power to negatively influence public perception, instead of simply relaying the truth. What do you think about this soldier’s perspective on the media’s negative/sensationalistic bias when covering the situation in Afghanistan?


Anonymous said...

Hi Holly,

Your article on the war is right on target with how most american's feel.

Keep up the right writing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Holly,

Once again, you've hit the nail on the head! Even our allergist commented on the biases of the two local newspapers, and said he only reads the entertainment section now.

I don't think the media decision makers have any idea how many people they are alienating with biased reporting. Worse, I don't think these decision makers have any idea of how much of a threat they are to the concept of a "free press" in a democratic society. It really doesn't do much good for the press to be free if we can't trust what they say. It seems as though the media has become self-serving to an appalling degree. And it infuriates me almost beyond what I can stand.

Thanks for making me feel better by writing about this: it's good to know others see it too.

Anonymous said...

Nice article Holly,
I believe that responsibility comes with freedom of speech (press).