Monday, May 17, 2004

Choosing What to Report (Updated)

Today, as you may or may not have heard, the army reported that a roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent had recently exploded near a U.S. military convoy in Iraq. Apparently, soldiers transporting the shell for inspection suffered symptoms consistent with low-level chemical exposure, which is what led to the discovery. In conjunction, the administration said that it also had discovered mustard gas.

Now, given all the hoopla about WMD in (or not in) Iraq, one would expect that such news would in fact be very big news. Maybe it would be isolated cases that wouldn't go anywhere, but one would imagine that people would find this meaningful and be curious as to where this story leads. And in fact, at mid-day, the major news services ran stories on it. By late this afternoon, the headlines were largely gone. And as of now, other than Fox News (whose website headline reads: "Sarin, Mustard Gas Found in Iraq"), you almost can't find it at all. Actually, on CNN, that is literally true; the story is not just gone from the headlines, but I simply can't find it anywhere, even after using the CNN search-engine (although you will find that 8 Palestinians were killed; just for fun I searched to see reference to the Israeli family that was massacred last week ... couldn't find any mention of it).

The Times is only slightly better. You won't find the story as the lead headline, nor under any of the sub-headlines on the International section. And even when you click on the International tab, you still won't see it under any the major have to scroll down to "More International News" and then the second story there is headlined "Illicit Weapons: Army Discovers Old Iraqi Shell Holding Sarin" I like the way that was written...the use of the words "illicit weapons" and "old iraqi shell" and the word "sarin"; all technically accurate, but clearly avoided the words like WMD or Chemical. Someone casually reading might just miss the whole article, and not really catch the implication.

However, if Seymour Hersh has anything else to say, I have no doubt we will see lots of headlines quoting the 'Pulitzer Prize' winner.

UPDATE: I stand somewhat corrected. You can find the article on CNN. Although, the article in not under any headline refering to the chemical weapons. Rather, the article is titled: "Iraqi council replaces slain leader". Only when you click on the article does it yield a sub-headline: "U.S. probes discovery of shell believed to contain sarin gas". About 12 paragaphs down, the issue is discussed. Well, I guess the Times and CNN can say they've covered the story.....


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