Magicians and Bunnies in the Newsroom

16 January, 2009

by Matangmanok (aka Sufjan Simone)

Magicians are in a trade. They satisfy an audience’s craving for the fantastic, the impossible, the breathtaking. They know the best contraptions to use, the best colours of smoke to release, the slightest gesture to reveal and conceal at the precise moment. They suck you in a narrative of sorts, preparing and priming you for that special moment, and then a quick flourish and VOILA!

They know the tricks of the trade, so to speak.

Mainstream corporate media is in a trade. They are run with the intent to sell texts and images and, unlike the distant origins of journalism that strives to reveal the uncompromising truth, mainstream media aims to keep the status quo and not rock the boat of complacency. There are exceptions, of course, but in more recent times there have been fewer and fewer brave media people willing to risk their jobs and even their own lives by going against approved storylines and perspectives.

Those who put out “news” have many ways of revealing and concealing things. Some tricks are easy to spot as outright lies and fabrications. Some “news reports” are mere repetitions or muffled Amens to greater powers – political, corporate, religious, military, etc. – and, by mere repetition, are assumed to be facts by the less critical reader or “consumer” of news, details not meant to be questioned.

These types of media people view their readers as uncritical and feed them the same information from the same sources but spiced up or slightly changed to add some variety. Their positions remain the same.

It would be quite easy to pinpoint outright lies in a news article. Some tricks are more subtle and so we shall reveal just one of them for now.

In the aftermath of the historic “Throwing of the Shoes at Outgoing President Bush” – which to some people may seem a mundane and totally irrelevant event in world affairs – there has been an unprecedented flurry of activities from protest rallies in various parts of the world to show support for the reporter, proliferation of internet-based games depicting alternate scenarios, and numerous articles full of accurate or fictional information.

When will we see the end to this current media frenzy? As of this writing, a week after the event, the reporter who was catapulted to fame has not been shown in public. A judge who has seen him says he has been badly injured.

In a 19 December 2008 Associated Press article entitled “Iraqi judge says shoe-throwing reporter was beaten” credited to Jim Heintz and Patrick Quinn in Baghdad and Matthew Lee in Washington we find a very interesting narrative. Most of it is written in an objective voice, detailing the show of support for the reporter from Iraqis and the world over. Shoe throwing, it seems, has become a powerful statement against occupying powers.

Here is a link to the full article.

What I would like to focus on is the last part of the article that goes:

-o-

In London, about 50 protesters shook their shoes at the U.S. Embassy in a show of support for al-Zeidi.

In the West Bank village of Bilin, Palestinians hurled shoes rather than the usual rocks at Israeli soldiers in the weekly Friday protest against the Israeli separation barrier, which slices through their fields.

And the head of a large West Bank family offered one of its eligible females as a bride for al-Zeidi. Ahmad Salim Judeh, 75, said his 500-member clan had raised $30,000 for al-Zeidi’s legal defense.

Many supporters of al-Zeidi hold Bush personally responsible for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

On Friday, a Baghdad police official said seven disembodied heads and two complete corpses were found in a deserted building in Sadr City. The victims appeared to have been killed about two years ago, the officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

-o-

There is a very strange last paragraph there, as if inserted not by the original author but by someone else. How does it link to the bulk of the story? Where does it come from? An uncritical reader would pass that off as just another bit of information. Another might say it was merely bad writing and editing.

What is the aim of that last paragraph?

Since it has no direct relation to the original narrative, we must seek a different one for it. In that paragraph the key words are “anonymity,” “disembodied,” “deserted,” “not authorized to speak to reporters” and lastly “two years ago.”

Remember our magician? Like him (or her) the authors of this news article have come up with a quick sleight of hand, a flourish of smoke, a wink of an eye. We are given an unrelated bit of information – whether real news or a fabrication, we are not allowed to question because of the phrase “not authorized to speak to reporters.” The source will never be revealed. It might have been the easter bunny.

Note the namelessness that goes with “disembodied” and “deserted.” It fits nicely with the unauthorized source. These are mere corpses or missing body parts that were randomly discovered, it seems, and news of this must urgently be added to a news item that has no connection to it whatsoever. And the most damning detail here is that the killing probably took place “two years ago” – not on the day of the shoe-throwing incident or even close to it.

After breaking this paragraph down to its crucial parts, we can come to this revelation. It was added as a kind of smokescreen, something to deflect the mention of numerous and unwavering support for the reporter shown by people both in Iraq and other parts of the world. Imagine a magician forcing the audience to look at the cute bunny in his one hand as he slips something out of the other.

Aside from that, there is something even more interesting. Wouldn’t it be a horrifying thing to learn about these disembodied heads and corpses? But with the placing of this information at the very end of an article, and with such brevity, it is deemed unimportant to stand on its own and be given some investigative reporting.

It is given mention as if it were an acceptable daily occurrence, something that says “sinister” in a matter of fact way. As if to say “This awful deed is part of their daily lives” but not in those words. It is implied by way of presentation. Why? By whom? For what aim?

A subtle trick indeed, nearly unnoticeable. I have doubts the original writer knew his piece of journalism would end up like this: disembodied.

–o–

Note: This article was written in December 2008 and initially appeared on Helium.com

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