Unknown Motive?

Wednesday's Example of Media Bias   —   Posted on August 24, 2011

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-Read the excerpt below from the "Best of the Web" post by OpinionJournal.com's editor James Taranto (original post date 6/17/11).
-Read "Types of Media Bias" in the right column. Then answer the questions.

There was a terror scare at the Pentagon [on June 16th]. As CBS News reports, it started when the U.S. Park Police “came upon” 22-year-old Yonathan Melaku wandering around Arlington National Cemetery, which was closed. “The Park Police then launched a search for a vehicle, which was found near the Pentagon.”

A search of the car turned up “no suspicious items,” but Melaku told the cops “that he was carrying explosive materials.” They checked his backpack and “found what appeared to be an unknown quantity of ammonium nitrate,” a chemical “that is widely used in fertilizers and can be used in explosives with the correct concentration.”

We learn from the CBS story that Melaku is a lance corporal in the Marine Reserves. The Associated Press adds that he is a naturalized American citizen, originally from Ethiopia. CBS also reports that “Melaku was carrying a notebook that contained the phrases ‘al Qaeda,’ ‘Taliban rules’ and ‘Mujahid defeated croatian forces’ when he was detained,” but “that the suspect is not thought to have been involved in a terrorist act or plot.”

All of which raises an obvious question–but one that goes unanswered in the reports from CBS and AP, as well as others from ABC News and the Washington Post. We could only find one news organization that had the answer: Fox News Channel, which reports that Maliku is Muslim.

Now, it’s possible that Fox simply got a scoop here, but our guess is that this fact was omitted from the other reports because of the politically correct taboo against making a connection between Islam and terrorism. … Religion [is] almost always [relevant to the motive for the attack] when a Muslim commits an act of terrorism or a related crime.

These politically correct [restrictions] are not applied in a consistent or reciprocal fashion. If Maliku were a Christian and had been arrested outside an abortion clinic, you can bet his religion would have been widely reported. And the press sensationalizes “hate crimes” by whites against blacks or non-Muslims against Muslims.

One possible explanation is the man-bites-dog theory of news: that those types of crimes get more attention because they’re unusual. But that doesn’t hold up. Remember last August when a Muslim taxi driver was stabbed in New York? It was a sensational story that the New York Times used to further its narrative that anti-Muslim bigotry was behind opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. But the Times deeply buried the real man-bites-dog element: The suspect turned out to be a volunteer for a nonprofit that supported the mosque.

The typical justification for declining to identify [terrorism] suspects as Muslim…is that it is an effort to counter invidious [harmful; unfair] stereotypes. We’re not sure it is even effective at that. The day after the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, we were at a lunch when we received a news-alert email that eight people had been injured in a shooting at an Orlando, Fla., office building. We mentioned this to our table mates, and one asked: “Was it a Muslim?”

The email didn’t say, but it turned out the attack fit a different stereotype: the disgruntled former employee going postal. When news organizations evade facts that fit what they see as undesirable stereotypes, they train news consumers to fill in the blanks even when the stereotypes do not apply.

Read the original post at OpinionJournal.com. (see the top post “Losing His Religion”)

Questions

1.  What types of bias is the excerpt below an example of?

2.  Define sensationalize.

3.  Mr. Taranto makes the two following assertions:

  • “If Maliku were a Christian and had been arrested outside an abortion clinic, you can bet his religion would have been widely reported.”
  • “the press sensationalizes “hate crimes” by…non-Muslims against Muslims”

 
Do you agree with either of Mr. Taranto’s assertions?  Explain your answer.


Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the answers.
























Answer(s)

1.  The excerpt is an example of bias by omission, labeling and spin.

2.  sensationalize – to describe or show something in a way that makes it seem more shocking than it really is (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary, m-w.com)

3.  Opinion question.  Answers vary.