November 15, 2009

The Fort Hood Shooter: A News Quiz

in which the better you score, the worse off you are

hasan press.jpg
"so it was the Zoloft?"


New York Times
Washington Times (NB: this is not the same as the Washington Post)
Fox News

Which news outlet published the following stories?  (Hint: What do the titles say, and what don't they say?)

Nov 5: Army Doctor Held in Ft. Hood Rampage

Nov 6: 'Good doctor' stressed out by deployment?

Nov 6: Army: Suspect said "Allahu Akbar" before firing

Nov. 6: Fellow Worshipers Describe Fort Hood Shooting Suspect as Devout Muslim, Troubled By Wars

Nov 6: Obama: "Don't Jump To Conclusions" on Fort Hood Shooting

Nov 7 George W. Bush Visits Fort Hood, Wounded Soldiers

Nov 7 George W. Bush Secretly Visits Fort Hood Victims

(NB: these are two different articles.)

Nov 7: Little Evidence of Terror Plot In Base Killings

Nov 7: Suspect Was 'Mortified' About Deployment

Nov. 7: Suspected Fort Hood Shooter Was "Calm" During Massacre, May Have Shouted "God Is Great!"

Nov. 7: Uncle: Fort Hood Suspect Loved US

Nov 8 A Doctor, And A Conflicted Soldier

Nov 11: Walter Reed Officials Asked: Was Hasan Psychotic?

Nov 12: EXCLUSIVE: Fort Hood Suspect contacted Muslim Extremists

Nov. 14 Obama wants to delay Fort Hood probe


Two observations.  First, each title has an "angle."  At the same moment the NYT and others were pushing the doctor/deployment angle-- and deliberately avoiding the Muslim angle,  Fox and the Washington Times were featuring "Allahu Akbar" and minimizing any other factors.    You will observe that reading only one "side" or the other would be worse than not reading any articles at all: you would have accepted a prejudice as "news" level truth.  No outlet has a claim to the truth.

The second is about the phrasing.  On Nov 7, the NYT reported, George W. Bush Visits Fort Hood, Wounded Soldiers, but Fox News adds "Secretly." Both articles are less than 5 sentences long, yet Fox  uses "secretly" twice (in addition to the title) to convey the sense of a MacArthur coming to save the war.  The NYT never uses "secretly," nor does it explain that the Bushes specifically didn't want any media to know they were there-- a fact which itself could be newsworthy.  All four Fox sentences are about Bush; only two of the five NYT are.

Similarly, the "Obama wants to delay Fort Hood Probe" most certainly conveys a "do you see what this politically correct idiot is up to now?" Meanwhile, as the article explains, Obama really only wants to delay the Congressional probe until the FBI finishes its criminal investigation, which is not even a story worth reporting; Fox reports it only so they can attach that misleading title.  They're banking on you doing what you probably just did, which is read only the title.  You are left either with consonance with Fox ("Obama is an idiot") or dissonance ("I know Fox is an idiot, but I'm struggling with coming up with reasons why Obama might delay a probe.  He must have a good reason, right?")  Either way, they have caused you to think a certain way.


What's very interesting-- read: depressing--  is how the news outlets protect themselves from the facts.  For example, it's probably no surprise that the major focus of the Fox News articles on Nov 5 concerned Hasan's relationship to Islam.  In contrast, on Nov 5, the two NYT articles do not once reference Islam.  Indeed, one article almost goes out of its way to avoid it, quoting from some file: "no religious preference."   It then postulates "much about his background-- and his motives-- are unknown".  

Yet the same NYT article that never mentions Islam does, incongruously,  include a denouncement from the Muslim Public Affairs Council.   It floats there, with no context within the article.   This inclusion makes sense only if you already come in to the article with some knowledge that Hasan was Muslim.   In this way, the NYT doesn't have to take any  responsibility in spreading the "gossip" of an Islam link, but can simultaneously take credit for showing both sides (or the other side) of an issue.

In another, 770 word article of that same day, the word Muslim does appear-- only once: "a U.S. born Muslim."  It's a fact no one would question.  But rather than simply reporting this fact, they attribute the information as coming from... Fox News.  Think about this: is the NYT  turning to Fox News for information?   Of course not; they're distancing themselves from the information.


From here:

Viewership for the cable news channels surged on Thursday afternoon as news [of the shootings] shocked the country.

What station had the most viewers?  Average viewers from 3p-12a:

Fox: 3.04M (usual 2M)
CNN 1.58M (usual 0.9M)
MSNBC  0.88M (usual 0.8M)

"The O'Reilly Factor" had 5M.