January 8, 2006

A Shiite Sandwich

Hatched by Dafydd

Sometimes, spelunking through a mainstream-media report on Iraq to locate the real story requires a helmet, headlamp, pick, rope, and other caving gear; it's a major expedition into the deepest, darkest depths of the media closet.

The classic technique for burying good news which should be the lede is the mirror image of what a blunt friend of mine, a master of the delicate phrase, always referred to as (I sink into euphemism) a "turd sandwich." (You can guess what he actually said, but please don't post your guesses here, thanks!) When you want to criticize someone, but you want him not simply to tune you out, you must encase the criticism within a sandwich of praise on each side: "your screenplay has excellent character development and flows well; if it has any flaw, it would be that the plot completely falls apart in act three... but I really liked your visual imagery."

The MSM uses the reverse technique: all of the good news is buried in the middle, unmentioned in the headline, and surrounded on both sides by as bad a set of facts as they can report with a straight face. In print, the media will use what media critic Patterico calls the Power of the Jump™: they put nothing but bad news on the first page of a story, saving any good Iraq news for after "the jump," the part following the phrase "continues on page 23," knowing most readers won't.

I call as my fortieth witness the following article from AP.

The most urgent and important news in this story is that the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds have already reached general agreement on a tripartisan government that will be formed by the middle of February, much faster than back in January, 2005 -- and with none of the rancor that marred the earlier election:

Iraq's fractious political groups, meanwhile, could form a coalition government within weeks, Talabani said Saturday....

[Note and remember that I elide one paragraph here; I will return to this point at the end.]

Meeting with Straw in Baghdad, Talabani said Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political groups had agreed in principle on a national unity government that could be formed within a few weeks. Western diplomats in Baghdad have speculated that a government could be in place by the second half of February.

Notice the telltale word "meanwhile" in the first quoted paragraph above. That is a dead giveaway that this was not the first graf of the article, as it should have been. This is great news! But you wouldn't know it unless you read into the middle-end of the story... because the headline is actually a completely unrelated story: 12 Thought Dead After Copter Crash in Iraq.

Sachi was the first to point out this technique to me. When the Associated Press (or any MSM source) wants to bury the lede, their most common technique is to surreptitiously shoehorn it, in the dark of a moonless night, into an article that would give no clue to the reader of the guilty, little nugget of good news buried inside. (Congress uses a similar technique, hiding a provision to spend $300 million of taxpayer money on the Sen. Ima Tachs Hogg Congressional Library within an agricultural bill for Nebraska locust relief.)

The AP story opens describing the terrible deaths of twelve brave Americans whose Blackhawk helicopter crashed; no word yet whether it was due to mechanical failure, weather, or enemy action, and no word as of this writing whether it was full of soldiers or civilians. (The New York Times reports that "Bad weather was thought to have played at least some role.")

AP then segues seamlessly into an account of the three Marines killed today and the two slain yesterday, lingering over the current American military death clock.

The story next dwells with some relish upon the various civilians killed in Iraq today (five), and upon a mosque that we raided (complete with an accusatory quote from the Association of Muslim Scholars, a group that often works hand-in-glove with the terrorists). It discusses a French hostage who was just released and waxes rhapsodic over the number of civilians who have been kidnapped in Iraq since the war began.

Oh, did you know the United States and the Iraqi government have been talking to a very large number of Sunni rejectionists, and that there has been "a recent 'uptick'" in the number of such groups now willing, since the December elections, to enter into discussions to rejoin the greater Iraqi community and turn their backs on the terrorists, further isolating the latter? You'd never know it unless you read deep into this completely unrelated story about a helicopter crash.

And only after all this do we finally come to what should be the real lede, the only piece of actual "news" in this entire article (unless you count the "uptick" as a newslet): negotiations on forming the new, elected government are going much better than anyone expected -- and better than anyone has hitherto reported. AP casually drops the good-news bombshell in paragraph twenty-nine out of thirty-seven.

But then, at the very end -- just to make sure to leave a bad taste even in the mouths of those hardy souls who read deep into what appears, at first glance, to be a typical "bad day in Baghdad" story -- the AP piece ends with the phrase "In other violence Sunday:"... followed by a list of various people shot today.

And there you have it: a good-news sandwich, where the surrounding bread is made up of every piece of bad news AP can find to disguise, bury, and minimize the real story -- the imminent creation of Iraq's first truly democratic, inclusive "national unity government," and the uptick in the number of militant Iraqi groups willing to lay down their arms and join the political process instead.

Oh, and the elision I committed in the quoted paragraphs above, marked by the "...." ellipsis? AP was so bubbling over with bad news they considered more important than the remarkable political story, they even found occasion to insert some right into the middle of the few grafs describing the formation of the government:

Talabani, a Kurd, offered a timeframe on the formation of a government after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said Iraqis remain optimistic despite a violent week that saw nearly 200 people killed in two days.

...Just in case you'd forgotten in all the excitement.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 8, 2006, at the time of 1:02 PM

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The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

Nicely done!!!

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 8, 2006 4:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: stackja1945

Secret Iraqi business! Must not tell about the good unless trumpet the bad. Has always been so. Always will been so. MSM has always trumpeted US inadequacies.

The above hissed in response by: stackja1945 [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 8, 2006 4:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

'Da Kettles cover can only be kept on for just so long before 'Da Kettle blows its lid...huh, MSM.

i would take a "Dan Special" to go, if i were there to take it; however, since i am here, it would be spoiled before i got there, so...MSM,i suggest that you eat it.

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 9, 2006 8:29 PM

The following hissed in response by: harkyman

I was reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (liberal) the other day, out of sheer boredom, as I found myself eating alone at a pastry place and the little rag was the only thing near me to occupy my attention. I haven't read a mainstream newspaper in several years.

I noticed the exact same thing. Huge color photo of grieving Iraqis. Big headline about the latest fatalities. Lots of copy about this many killed and that many wounded, Iraqis are angry, etc. The very last paragraph, continued to page 8, read something like this:

"In other news, U.S. and Iraqi forces detained three suspected insurgents, one of whom was Iranian. Iraqi forces also found explosives that had been manufactured in Iran."

And they say they're impartial.

The above hissed in response by: harkyman [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 10, 2006 5:33 AM

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