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Thursday, March 16, 2006

SANITIZED FOR YOUR PROTECTION

“All the news that we think is appropriate for you to read.”

There has been a lengthy and often vociferously argued dialogue about the possibility of agenda driven news in the main stream media. Arguably, all reporters are human, at least by legal definition, and therefore have their own prejudices and biases. However, they often state that their reports are not contaminated by their personal beliefs, and opinion is properly ensconced on the editorial pages of our newspapers, and in the opinion segments of television news. Since I am not a journalist, I am not bound by the supposed boundaries which the professionals say guide their reporting. I am, alas, all too human. Therefore, what I write often expresses my own personal values, experiences, viewpoints, and priorities. To this I plead nolo contendre.

The recent disturbances in France, which have either ended or become so routine as to no longer be considered news, gave me an opportunity to follow a developing story using a single source, to determine if the news I was reading was accurate, complete, uncensored, and contained enough information for me to make a reasonable assessment of what was actually occurring.

The single news source was easy for me to select. As a resident of central Iowa, there is only one major newspaper, the Des Moines Register. For a small city paper, the Register has a long and illustrious history. The large number of journalistic awards it has received over many decades is way out of proportion to its size and readership, and would lead one to believe that it would present a clear and concise view of events, without prejudice and with no thought to directing it’s readership to a predetermined conclusion.

The following is a five day synopsis of the results of the stories contained in the Des Moines Register.

Saturday, November 5th. In the only story about the events in France, the following words were used to describe the perpetrators of the unrest. Marauding youths, attackers, rioters, troublemakers, youths, and gangs. The story was an A/P piece, under the byline of Jamey Keaten.

Sunday, November 6th. In an A/P story under the byline of Elaine Ganley, the disturbances were attributed to arsonists, youths, and Africans and their French born children.

Monday, November 9th. In the only story today, another A/P article by Elaine Ganley, the trouble was attributed to rioters, youths and minorities, arsonists and the French born children of Arab and Black Africans.

Tuesday, November 8th. The only story today was another A/P wire piece, under the byline of Jocelyn Becker. The ‘civil unrest’ was attributed to rioters, youths, vandals, teens of Mauritanian and Tunisian parents, and the French born children of Arab and Black African immigrants. It was the result of the death of two teenagers.

Wednesday, November 9th. The A/P story of today, again the only article in the Register, was under the byline of Sebastian Rosella. It mentioned immigrant suburbs, youth gangs, young vandals, gangsters, and extremists looking to expand their turf.

In reading the five articles in the Des Moines register, I got the impression that France was experiencing an unusual rise in teenage vandalism. Certainly, this is something Iowans can identify with. We often have to deal with out of control youths who throw rolls of toilet paper over the trees at the football coaches houses, use spray cans of paint to write their girlfriends names on highway overpasses, and knock over mail box posts as an end of graduation party exercise. We are a more urban population now than in decades past, so outhouse and cow tipping are now considered passé.

On closer reading, the French problem seemed to be centered on teens who are the children of African immigrants. This would be puzzling to us, since Iowa is home to a surprising number of immigrants from Mexico, Southeast Asia, Nigeria, the Balkans, and most recently, the Sudan. While we read of gangs like the Crips, Bloods, M13 and others; street gangs, immigrant or otherwise, are not a major threat in central Iowa. Beer parties resulting in teenage drunk drivers doing themselves harm is a bigger concern here.

Imagine my surprise when I read accounts from other sources, including main stream media, and discovered that the rioting involved scores of cities, thousands of rioters, scores of buildings burned, and tens of thousands of vehicles destroyed. Another surprise was that the rioters were exclusively Moslem youths. I was unable to confirm any acts of violence committed by Christian, Buddhist, Animist, Hindu or atheist teens.

None of the stories carried in our paper included photos. None of the stories mentioned that the rioters were Moslems. None of the stories gave an accurate picture of the scope of the riots, or the extent of the damage caused. No mention of the quotes from rioters that among the reasons for their actions was a rebellion against French culture. No sound bites of Molotov cocktails being hurled to the shouts of Allah Akbar. Of the deaths and injuries, not a word.

The Des Moines Register has a new editor, who wrote an inspiring opinion piece in the Sunday, November 6th edition. In it, Carolyn Washburn gave us her pledge, that we can depend on the Register to continue to be a part of the efforts to improve Des Moines. Her pledge included many promises to be active in the areas of diversity, equality, education and quality of life issues. I find it interesting to note that nowhere in her pledge was there a mention that the Register would provide accurate, complete, unbiased and uncensored news to central Iowa. It is sad to note the passing of another once great newspaper. The Des Moines Register now stands as an example of another institution that has accepted the sacrifice of accuracy in favor of political correctness, fairness in favor of opinion, facts in favor of slant, and integrity in favor of agenda.

The Register has adopted the mantra that the news should be sanitized according to their beliefs, so as not to offend anyone. If that means they will edit the news to fit their own ideas, it shouldn’t matter to the readers, because they (the editors) know better than we (the readers). That all of the French riot stories came from a single source, the Associated Press, is an indication that the Register has found a source that meets their idea of how the news should be presented, and no other source is necessary. Apparently, the use of another source might offer a conflicting view of the story, which would only confuse we poor plebeians. This seems to be the case in many of the media, but most noticeably in the traditional print media.

My father told me before his death in 1963 that to retire, I needed five different sources of income. I think that this rule is true of the news also. If we rely on a single source, we will only get the viewpoint of that source, and they may be wrong. I wonder if the polls ever ask how many news sources the respondents used in formulating their opinions?

Tom Glennon

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