MISLEADING FROM THE START

Borba100 at SPAMaol.com Borba100 at SPAMaol.com
Sat Dec 11 22:08:46 MST 1999



MISLEADING FROM THE START
by Jared Israel (posted 12-10-99)
[Note from www.emperors-clothes.com Readers are encouraged to distribute this
article but please do so in full, with credit to emperors-clothes.com. Thank
you.]

On December 9, AP issued a news report about a stormy City Council meeting in
Seattle. I read this AP dispatch quickly but it bothered me so I read it
again, and then once more, carefully, and found what seemed to be a
deliberate effort at misinformation. (Either deliberate or these guys got
very lucky.)

Let's look at the AP piece together.

It begins with the following headline: "Seattle Police Actions Questioned"

Studies of how people read newspapers confirm what common sense suggests: if
a group of people are given a newspaper, some will look at a particular
headline and some won't; a smaller number will read the first paragraph of
the article but no more; an even smaller number will read the second
paragraph and so on, with more and more dropping away as they move toward the
end.

Even for those who read the entire text, the headline has a big impact. It
lingers in the imagination, suggesting a certain tone, coloring the story.

What about this particular headline: "Seattle police actions QUESTIONED"? (my
capitals)

What does "QUESTIONED" suggest?

Don't we use the verb "to question" to administer a mild rebuke? For example,
would you say, "I questioned the mugger's right to break my wife's jaw"?
Would you say, "The policeman pulled off the non-violent protester's gas
mask, sprayed pepper gas in his face at point-blank range and rubbed it into
his eyes. I questioned his behavior"?

By saying police behavior is being "questioned", the headline sets a gentle
tone. It suggests that people may be concerned but not terribly upset. I'm
OK, you're OK, everybody's friends.

The first paragraph continues along these lines, creating a gentle ambiance:

"DETRACTORS far outnumbered defenders of police at a special City Council
meeting on the handling of protests surrounding the World Trade Organization
meeting." (My capitals.)

"Detractors" and "Defenders" - nice, very balanced. What's a detractor, by
the way? Isn't a detractor a gentle critic?

For example, mightn't one say: "Her detractors commented that she was too old
for that outfit." But mightn't one be viewed askance (perhaps even
questioned) if one said: "Charles Manson's detractors thought he should have
been executed."

HUH? DID SOMEBODY GOOF?

People generally read news stories to satisfy their curiosity. But what is
left to wonder after this first paragraph? Doesn't it suggest that nothing
much happened at the City Council?

It does. The suggestion is false. Reading on, we are informed that:

"Kathy Cado, alarmed that her husband had been tear-gassed on his way home
from work, told the hearing she ventured to the city's embattled Capitol Hill
neighborhood last week to witness for herself the clash between protesters
and police.

"'What I saw was as frightening as anything I've ever seen in my life,'" Cado
said. "It was a cross between Star Wars and Tiananmen Square."

"At the hearing that drew an overflow crowd Wednesday, Cado and others
described police officers indiscriminately tossing tear gas canisters at not
only the demonstrators they were trying to disperse, but also at residents
out shopping, dining and walking their dogs...

"Speakers particularly took police to task for their actions the night of
Dec. 1 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood east of downtown - first for forcing
demonstrators in that direction from downtown, and then taking aggressive
actions that included firing tear gas and pepper spray.

"'I basically think they were treating residents of Capitol Hill like
animals,' said Clark Pickett." (AP dispatch)

"As frightening as anything I've ever seen in my life" - ?!

Would you describe Cathy Cado's remarks as "questioning" the police? Is Clark
Picket a "detractor"? What's going on here? Is the AP scrambling stories? Mix
and match? Did they take the headline and first paragraph from the report on
a ruckus over Christmas tree lights at a Seattle-area PTA and stick them on
the City Council piece?

Let's do some editing, change a word here, a word there and voila, here's the
headline and the first paragraph:

"Seattle Residents Denounce Police"

"Attackers far outnumbered defenders of police at a special City Council
meeting on the handling of protests surrounding the World Trade Organization
meeting."

Isn't that better? Doesn't it suggest what actually happened?

WATERING IT DOWN

By using the inaccurate opening, the AP sends busy readers away with
impressions diluted. Remember, readers tend to skim news articles, not study
them. They will recall the mild tone of the headline and opening paragraph;
if they read further they may remember that some people were upset but that
impression will be tempered by the first impression, of mild criticism. The
contradictory impressions will tend to cancel.

EVERYBODY NEEDS SOME GUIDANCE SOMETIMES

As if to further dilute readers' awareness that Seattle residents are furious
at police, the AP (writer? editor?) has inserted the following sentence in
the text:

"The National Guard was called in and a curfew was imposed AFTER some
protesters smashed windows and slashed tires on police cars." (my capitals)

I call this "Editorial Guidance". It's often found in important news stories.
I've written a lot about NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia and occupation of
Kosovo and I have seen a good deal of "editorial guidance" in newspaper
articles about Serbia, wherein some accusation of Serbian brutality is
mandatory, especially if the article concerns Albanian violence against Serbs
and "Gypsies"; some guiding phrase must be added to remind readers that such
attacks are "revenge for earlier Serbian violence."

The point of "editorial guidance" is to orient readers for a proper
information experience by protecting them from conclusions that might follow,
helter skelter, from mere fact. For example, there are many news reports of
Albanians murdering aged Serbian women, children, non-Serbs who speak
languages that sound Serbian, and even one story reporting Albanian demands
that a dog be put to death because it was (I kid you not) Serbian as opposed
to Albanian(?!).

Now, presented with such raw info, an unguided mind might wander into
inappropriate areas such as:"Maybe these Albanians are anti-Slav racists."
The next thing you know our reader is mired in SPECULATION: "If the Serbs are
all bad and the Albanians are all good and NATO bombed Yugoslavia to forge
multiethnic peace - why, since NATO conquored Kosovo, has there been 5 months
of unmitigated violence against Serbs?" This kind of thinking will get you
nowhere since it calls into question the whole NATO experience; therefore
stories about Albanian terrorism must include reminders that such mysterious
attacks (such as, let us say, the strangling of a 95 year old Serbian woman
in her bath or the driving of 30,000 residents from an immense housing
complex in Pristina after which the apartments are sold or rented to UN
employees) are "revenge for the brutal policies of Milosevich's forces during
the NATO bombing." This makes everything clear and citizens of the Western
democracies can eat their MacFood in peace and leave the thinking to machines.

The Seattle protesters have been getting a dose of the Serbian treatment:
demonization through "editorial guidance." In their case, the guiding phrase
is "police action which followed vandalism and looting by some protesters" -
or words to that effect. This aids folks to a properly-seated view, like a
gentle laxative: "The police may have been occasionally overzealous but stop
whining at least they're out there risking their necks defending democratic
values against marauding punks who got what they deserved try pulling that
crap in some country where there ISN'T free speech!"

WHY AREN'T CITIZENS MAD AT THE PROTESTERS?

If the AP is right, if police were only responding to violent protesters
"after some protesters smashed windows and slashed tires on police cars" then
here is the $64 question: why aren't the local people mad at the protesters?
The AP dispatch notes that:

"More than 100 people signed up to speak at the [City Council] meeting, which
began at 4 p.m. and lasted until 11. Hundreds of people who couldn't fit in
to the hearing room initially stood outside in the rain, and a speaker was
hooked up to allow them to listen....THE CROWD APPEARED TO HEAVILY FAVOR THE
DEMONSTRATORS (AP dispatch, our capitals.)

Having no source of information but the mass media, many regular folks
outside Seattle believe the "the-police-were-only-responding" line. But what
about the local Seattle people? These are regular folks too, that is, people
with a variety of opinions concerning the WTO, people who have the MOST
reason to be upset by the disruption of their city - why, as the AP reports,
do these people "heavily favor the demonstrators?"

Indeed, isn't "heavily FAVOR the demonstrators" an AP evasion? Shouldn't that
phrase be rewritten? Shouldn't the AP have said the local people are "heavily
FURIOUS at the police?" Indeed, isn't this precisely what Seattle citizens
were quoted saying in this same AP dispatch? That they were "treated like
animals" by police; that police "indiscriminately" gassed people?

Somebody should tell the AP: This isn't a baseball game. The local people
aren't "favoring" one side. The local people are rising up against what they
saw being done to the protesters and what they experienced being done to
themselves, by an outrageous abuse of police power.

The AP statement that police only acted after demonstrators attacked does not
derive from the evidence presented in the AP story; rather it is presented to
undermine the factual evidence.

WHAT WE SAW IN SEATTLE

The website I work on, www.emperors-clothes.com , had a reporter in Seattle.
Jim Desyllas did not go there expecting a police attack. But when the police
did attack, he observed them for almost two days.

He, and everyone else who was in downtown Seattle at the time, knows that the
police started the violence.

Not only started it but continued to provoke it, brutalizing non-violent
protesters and leaving the violent ones alone. Moreover, when the police had
a group of about 100 people reliably throwing things, they herded this group
around the city, providing plenty of photo-ops for the media.

Here's Jim:

"A number of times they had these 100 or so protesters caught between
buildings and walls of police. They could easily have arrested and detained
this small number of people and gotten it over with. Instead they would gas
them and let them go. Then trap them again, gas them again, and again let
them go...The police were using these people as extras. It was staged. I
believe also the police had their own people in there, encouraging people to
break stuff - if people think I may be exaggerating, I saw supposed
protesters - they were screaming and so on - and then later, when everything
was over, the same people tackled other protestors and put handcuffs on
them." ("Collateral Damage in Seattle", See Note # 1 at end)

MISDESCRIBING A RESIGNATION

One last point about the AP dispatch. Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper has
resigned. This is an interesting development, worth discussing. His obvious
reason for resigning is that many Seattle residents blame him for last week's
police brutality. In addition, some people have suggested that he may be
resigning because the violence was actually orchestrated by Federal agents -
FBI, CIA, Department of Defense - and that he (and other local Seattle pols)
are being used as a fall guy. In other words, that his resignation is a kind
of protest. Either way, his resignation is a response to the outcry against
police brutality.

The AP mentions Stamper's resignation in the dispatch. Look how they handle
it:

"In the wake of the disruption, Police Chief Norm Stamper announced his
retirement this week." (Our emphasis)

"In the wake of the disruption"? This sentence would only make sense if Chief
Stamper were resigning for failing to stop protesters from disrupting the
city. In fact he's being criticized for using excessive violence, not for
failing to prevent disruption.

Some people have said that the kind of police tactics used in Seattle are the
greatest threat to democracy in our country. I look at it differently. I
think the amazingly uniform duplicity of the media is the greatest threat to
democracy. For how can people make decisions, how can they oppose police
state tactics, if they are fed a diet of lies?

I believe that exposing the lies of the mass media is an act of love for this
country and the whole planet. Only by knowing the truth can we be free.

***

Note # 1 - For Jim Desyllas' account of what he saw on the streets in
Seattle, please click on Collateral Damage in Seattle or got to
http://www.emperors-clothes.com/analysis/collater.htm

Note # 2 - www.emperors-clothes.com has a number of articles that deal with
media distortion. Three writers who focus on this question are Diana
Johnstone, Jared Israel and Phil Hammond. To read their writing, click on
Articles by Author or go to http://www.emperors-clothes.com/artbyauth.html
and then click on either J, I or H. (Some of Diana's and Jared's articles
aren't yet posted in this section, but there's plenty on the topic.)

If you would like to browse articles from Emperors-Clothes.com, click here Or
go to: http://www.emperors-clothes.com










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