Sunday, August 08, 2004


Beheading for the hell of it (corrected)

Since many of my readers are au courant on the latest news, I tend to avoid topics that are well covered by other bloggers or (less likely) by the media. I take up these topics only if it appears to me that something is being left out of the discussion. Such is the story of the fake video of his own beheading by Benjamin Vanderford, a San Francisco attention-getter and political wannabe.

One blogger, a cable newsdesk editor herself, has a post on how easily the media are tricked, then go into denial.

But the problem with the reporting goes beyond being duped as to the facts. The greater problem is the false or missing attribution of those facts.

Here's the Voice of America:

The video has been linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born suspected operative of the al-Qaida terrorist network, whose group, Tawhid and Jihad, has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks across Iraq and the beheadings of a U.S. businessman Nicholas Berg, a South Korean translator, and a Bulgarian truck driver. U.S. officials have not commented about the tape. [Emphasis added]

Amazing, isn't it. The official right-wing voice of the United States. Note the passive voice in the opening--"has been linked." Has been linked by whom? Apparently not by any U.S. official.

Journalists are discouraged from using the passive voice. Not lively enough. Lacks "punch," and all that. But the real reason journalists should avoid it is that it can so easily hide the lack of attribution.

Consider a rewrite of the quote above, using the active voice: "An unknown person or agency has linked the video to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi...." In an instant you'd be scratching your head and asking "What the ...?"

Of course, the passive voice may communicate as well as the active voice. But if a sentence is missing the phrase "by (agent of action)," watch out. There's a significant part of the picture missing, and it can blow right by without anyone noticing.

My second concern is this:

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents interviewed Vanderford Saturday morning and an investigation has been opened, said FBI spokeswoman LaRae Quy. She said the agency initially became involved while trying to verify whether anyone had, in fact, been beheaded.

"We are collecting all the facts at this point in this process and we will pursue any and all legal avenues," Quy said, adding that it would be up to the U.S. Attorney to determine what, if any, charges are filed. [Emphasis added]

They're out to get him, plain and simple. He's exposed the gullibility of the media. He's shown the facileness with which any evil deed is linked to Zarqawi. And now "an investigation has been opened."

I hope Mr. Vanderford doesn't have any outstanding parking tickets. If he does, he could be in for some real trouble.

The newsdesk editor to whom I linked above is a "herself," not a "himself."

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