19 August 2007

A man, a pistol, a Guardian headline, nitpicking

I have copied this from the on-line edition of The Guardian of August 11:

Of course, anyone familiar with this here blog will know that I do, how to say it gently, criticize The Guardian from time to time for its bias. And some may say that I am myself a biased nitpicker. But what the heck, let's nitpick a bit more. Let's also do it in stages.

Stage one: the headline: Man killed in Jerusalem after grabbing gun. What would a reader in a hurry think? Just that a person got himself killed by the simple act of grabbing a gun. Maybe he grabbed his own gun somewhat awkwardly and it went off - happens all the time.

Stage two: let's assume now that the reader can spare another second or two and reads the lede (a fancy word some of my more literate friends use for the sentence below the headline). So what will the lede tell this reader? That the gun in question did not belong to the killed man, but to an Israeli security guard. Uhu. That's a bit more information - so the man grabbed a gun belonging to someone else. Then either the gun went off and killed him or someone else killed him for his trouble, using another gun (or even the same gun, taking it back from the gunjacker).

Stage three: now the intrigued reader (how many of them out there are interested in what is going on in Jerusalem really?) clicks through and goes to the article (by Rory McCarthy who provides most of the local info to The Guardian these days). What does our courageous and curious reader see in the first paragraph?

A man was killed yesterday after grabbing a pistol from an Israeli security guard in Jerusalem's Old City, prompting a chase through the city's narrow streets. Ten other people were injured.
Now our reader, apparently, gets the whole picture: the bloodthirsty Zionists pursued the gun-snatcher (who could have just wanted the gun for some peaceful activity - like a carnival or something) through the crowded narrow streets of the Old City, shooting indiscriminately and not only killed the man, but wounded ten innocent bystanders - as a bonus. At this point the disgusted reader will obviously click out of the article and go to his usual activities (statistically speaking - perusing some porn sites). And who could blame him or her?

Stage four: now we are dealing with a hardcore reader, the one who is really a) deep into absorbing every printed word and b) just crazy about any whisper from the Middle East. (How many of those do you know about?). Such a reader will get another dose of information from the next paragraph or two:
Israeli police said the man snatched the pistol from a private security guard and shot him in the shoulder. A second security guard chased the attacker past Christian souvenir shops and shot him dead. Several shots were fired during the chase and at least one of the injured was seriously hurt. There were many tourists walking through the streets at the time.
OK, now this is a clearer: so the man not only snatched the gun but used it immediately, shooting the poor shlemiel of a guard. Still, the question of shooting at the gun-snatcher in the crowded streets looms severely over the head of that second security guard, bloodthirsty Zionist that he looks like. Unfortunately, by this stage Rory got bored by the facts and switched to politics:
The security guards appeared to be among the many private, armed men who dress in civilian clothes and operate in the Old City guarding Jewish settlers.
Oh, well, we can start nodding off at this stage. Maybe we should just notice that "settlers" label. And idly remark to ourselves that it may be a good idea to start using it for Brits who got into the habit of buying lots of homes in France lately...

Or, if we are some really information-crazed maniacs, we can go to the

Stage five: compare the quote on the second security man above with some other source:
Another guard ran after the man, and nine bystanders were wounded, four from ricochets, in the ensuing gunfight. Five people were wounded by the assailant's gunfire, according to Israel Radio.
I think that at this stage we can round up this essay as far as the text "analysis" is concerned and come to the conclusions and epilogue. So what is the conclusion of this lengthy treatise?

I don't say that Rory M. is a biased journalist. Neither do I claim that the whole vast body of The Guardian are a bunch of anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic vermin just waiting for every opportunity to pounce on the Zionist entity. No - far from it (although they pay salaries or royalties to a few of those - but who doesn't?).

What I strongly feel, though, is that the whole publishing/writing/editing culture of The Guardian somehow leads its journalists and its editors, no matter how objective they try to be, into this (seemingly innocent) habit of structuring their articles on Israel in a specific way. And that this way will unobtrusively guide the inattentive (and who the heck is really attentive to something going on thousands of miles away?) reader into all the wrong conclusions. Or, at the least, into all the wrong impressions. Nothing to show in a court of justice, nothing to rave about in public, nothing you could put your finger on - in a hurry, that is.

I hope this provides an answer to some people wondering why so many of us are unhappy with The Guardian...

Cross-posted on Yourish.com.