Monday, September 21, 2015

Fisking as an unveiling of sins of omission

A few days ago, early in the day I referred my youngest son, who has a class in rhetoric, to the always excellent Politics and the English Language by George Orwell.

Later in the day, I came across an excellent example of the substance of Orwell's observations in Returning to the Copy Desk, Briefly by Kevin D. Williamson. Williamson conducts a thorough fisking of Diaa Hadid's reporting in the New York Times.
MEMO FROM: Copy desk

TO: New York Times Foreign desk

RE: Diaa Hadid for AM interntional; mark-up attached

HEAD: Jewish Man Dies as Rocks Pelt His Car in East Jerusalem [ED: “As rocks pelt his car”? How exactly did the rocks go about doing this? Are these special angry Palestinian rocks that get up off the ground and hurl themselves at Jews? Unless we’re talking about The Rock, in which case he’s going by “Dwayne Johnson” these days, I don’t think a rock is capable of committing an act of violence on its own.]

BYLINE: Diaa Hadidsept

DATELINE: Ramallah, West Bank, 14 September 2015

COPY: A Jewish man died [ED: “was killed.”] early Monday morning after attackers pelted the road [ED: “pelted the road”? They were aiming at the pavement? Please clarify.] he was driving on with rocks as he was returning home from a dinner celebrating Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, the Israeli authorities said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting to discuss rock-throwing, mostly [ED: “mostly”? Which other rock-throwers were discussed at the emergency meeting?] by Palestinian youths.

The man was identified in local news reports as Alexander Levlovich, 64. His death was reported as the police and Palestinian youths clashed [ED: Is it the case that the police and the Palestinian youths “clashed,” or is it the case that the police tried to stop violent crimes from being committed? Do the police “clash” with bank-robbers or muggers?] for a second day at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, amid tensions [Who is tense about this? Are Jews experiencing “tension” over being allowed to move about freely for the purposes of having dinner?] over increased visits by Jews for Rosh Hashana. The two-day holiday began at sundown on Sunday.

A statement from the Israeli police said the assailants were throwing stones [ED: At . . . ?] on Sunday night on a road that runs between a Palestinian and Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The police said the stone-throwing “led to a self-inflicted accident,” [ED: This is a quote, sure, albeit one without specific sourcing, but are we really going to pretend this was “self-inflicted”?] as the man lost control of the car [ED: “was driven off the road”] and smashed into a pole.

Palestinians scuffled [ED: At what point does a “scuffle” with “riot police” become, you know, rioting?] with the Israeli riot police after security forces blocked a road leading to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday.
He continues but that dry formulation is positively Orwellian: dying from "a self-inflicted injury" instead of the true statement "a 64 year-old man died when a mob of stone-throwing teens caused him to veer off the road and smash into a pole."

This seems to me a great example of the bias that slips into reporting without it ever being seen as bias on the part of the writer. It is not the lies that are told (of which there are few) but the truths left unstated (of which there are many). Reporters and editors often sin by omission rather than commission. And as this fisking shows, their omissions can be extensive. It is all about the framing.

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