Fat Steve's Blatherings

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

How does the Press Work?

      Last December, the AP published a photo of terrorists murdering two election workers in the streets of Baghdad.  It instantly became controversial, as people wanted to know how the photographer happened to be in position to take this picture.

      The Daily Standard has a story on the subject, here, by D. Gorton, a former New York Times photographer.  It's worth reading.

      Additionally, Susanna Cornett has a great comment on the whole subject:
      One of the things I've found repeatedly in the academic literature about the work of journalism is that one way the media manage the huge task of selecting and organizing information out of the vast pool out there is to bring to their selection process a preconceived notion of what they'll find and how they will interpret it [my emphasis -- St.O.]. That's how you get things like an article written about something that never happened. It's also how media bias finds its way most often into media coverage - they see what they expect to see, and what they expect to see is drawn at least partially from their own life experiences and filters. Gorton is saying that's what happened here - the AP believes the war in Iraq to be chaotic, it's a dramatic paper-selling point, they have a photo showing that what they think about the war is in fact true (or evidently true, based on the photo), so they go with it. The larger questions, about how the photographer knew about the situation or whether he was close enough to indicate a personal familiarity and even approval of the terrorists involved, are not asked.

      We all have meta narratives and biases. That's not the problem. The problem is that the media has them but refuses to admit it.




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