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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Iraqi War Coverage Sucks Purple Toes

I wrote this letter to the Washington Post Ombudsman

Two U.S. Soldiers Killed as Iraqi Council Member Opens Fire After Meeting

By Ernesto LondoñoWashington Post Foreign Service Tuesday, June 24, 2008; Page A08

Please look into this story. I have several complaints with it. First of all, the story isn't on just this one incidence of violence. About half-way down through the story, it turns about to be a hodgepodge of news of violence over the last few days. While I certainly have no problem with this type of story, (obviously there is enough violence to go around) I tuned into the story because the headline makes it sound like a city council member shot U.S. soldiers. If Christine Quinn went on a killing rampage, it would be a full story, not a news blurb. Obviously, New York and Baghdad are in no way comparable but the story does not purport to answer any of the basic questions. In fact, the story is terribly written. None of the paragraphs follow and it seems, that the author might just be mad if this is his idea of a narrative.

The lead is straight forward enough: "BAGHDAD, June 23 -- Two U.S. soldiers were killed and three were wounded Monday when a council member opened fire on them after a meeting in a small town south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said." But the sentence uses the term "council member" to denote...what? A City Council member? Do they even have such things in Baghdad? The story NEVER reports on this, instead going off on a aimless meandering trail of blood and gore throughout the Iraq. I had to go to the CNN report to find out more information, only to find out that their own reporting is actually worse The Post story does say that the council member was local tribal leader, but it says nothing about the distinction between the two. It is entirely likely that local religious, ethnic groups have put people on the city council, but then the story should indicate upfront, that the council is a farce, and that council members are often AK-47 wielding madmen (freedom fighters) out for vengeance. I read the story expecting to hear outrage from Maliki, and the U.S. government. Admittedly, it is silly of me to expect that City Council Members in Baghdad should be held to the same reporting standards as Council Members in Baghdad, but making the difference clear is the job of the reporter and the paper.

Instead the story goes on a three paragraph tear about a Canadian man who has nothing to do with the story at all. The very next sentence, made into a shiny new paragraph indicates that "The FBI sent a team of agents to Baghdad to investigate the shooting. None of the guards has been charged." Aside from the spectacular use of grammar (which I can't prove isn't correct, but seems highly unnecessary regardless) the sentence doesn't tell us which shooting! The shooting in the headline would be nice--but I think he's actually talking about a Blackwater shooting in September.

The last few paragraphs of the story are verbal diarhea of random reports and statements that have NOTHING to do with the headline. Or if they do--it certainly isn't explained. I mean, maybe I've critically misunderstood the issue. Maybe somewhere it's clear that this is not a news story, but that's also not my fault. I am a young man of average intelligence, with the documents to prove it, if I can't read this story, then there's something wrong.

I feel for your reporters there, really I do, but its your name in "Journalism" at issue -- and journalism that ain't. Fortunately for you most people don't read anything about the Iraq war. However, this story was picked up by several bloggers, and passed around. All announcing the same bizarre half-baked headline.

For your information the CNN report is worse, they spend less then fifty words describing the headline
"Officials: Iraqi councilman kills U.S. soldiers"
then launch into a mortar attack that occurred on Sunday. What's worse is that this event killed 10 Awakening Council members. A quick read of their story would indicate that it was one of these Awakening Council members who shot the U.S. soldiers. However, it's an entirely different attack. They might be linked but the reporter certainly doesn't say. The point is--I think that this is not a news story: It's a disbatch. So bill it that way. Eliminate the headline, make it News at the front. Put large bullet points between each one so that the reader can easily ascertain that the items are not connected.