Back when newspapers still distinguished between news and opinion, the role of the news section was to note events and present every salient fact related to those events. If, in the process, the story opened new and larger cans of worms, muddied the political waters or stepped on somebody’s toes, well, that’s what the form was all about.
So, how did things get so perverted?
These days, its hard to imagine a a current-event story presented outside its political context. In fact, the basic news value of an event today is its relation to politics. After the basic who, what, where, and when, it is common practice for news stories to choose and even solicit information detailing how an event modifies or alters the underlying political dynamic, or somehow verifies or contests a particular ideological scenario.
Given the authority of the newspaper and the traditional nature of the form, even people who appreciate this mutation have trouble seeing through it. As a result, what many people tend to perceive as objective is actually the conceptualization of an agenda, the framing of hypothesis as fact, the amplification of propaganda, and even the re-fashioning of hysterical thinking so it sounds like logic.
Take this NYT article and accompanying image as an example.
On Friday, The Times reported the discovery of a Saddam Hussein video, potentially developed for television, said to be made about six months or less before the U.S. invasion. In the presentation, Hussein stands around with his advisors testing out crude weapons, such as this crossbow. In the dialogue, he talks about the merit of weapons like slingshots, also stating how these kinds of things “can be made at home” and possibly mass produced.
From there, the article leaps to the theory — mostly through its choice of quotations — that this villain is already masterminding what has turned into an unstoppable civil war.
First, an Iraqi historian is quoted as speculating “whether this was preparation for the resistance.” The an Iraqi scholar notes Hussein’s specific use of the Arabic word “muqawama,” which means “resistance.” With perfect 20-20 hindsight, he frames the discussion on the video (quoting the article) as “enlisting civilians in a future insurgency against an occupying army.”
Never mind the fact, cited in the article out of due diligence, that military analysis (and interviews with Hussein himself) now indicate Saddam never expected to be attacked. Forget the fact, also mentioned, that Saddam was constantly worried about an armed uprising by the Shiites.
Having served as an Administration mouthpiece in the build up to war, and seduced by to the political narrative of the U.S. as invincible and Hussein as viable foe, The Times is intent on suggesting that this tape, its imagery, and the still frame above all demonstrate that Saddam, practically at that moment, is firing the first shot of the resistance.
(image: CBS News. published November 24, 2006. nytimes.com)