politics, history and the war on terror
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
The Nerve 

Now that the news of the find of the weaponized nerve agent sarin in Iraq (which has now been confirmed) has been available for over a day, it is interesting to see how the frequented news organizations perceive the value of this story. The metric that will be used to determine the significance is the order of the story's placement in on a website, which I believe is the true indicator of perceived importance as deemed by the publisher. For the sake of brevity, I randomly chose three popular news sources: the New York Times (the paper of record), the BBC, and CBS. Since news sites update their web indexes daily, today's web pages have been saved for your viewing pleasure.

The New York Times has basically buried the story. It was not listed on the front page, nor was it on the front page of the International section. Here is a small sample of stories deemed more important than the discovery of sarin gas in Iraq:

Gandhi Says She 'Must Humbly Decline' to Be India's Premier
Senators Press Wolfowitz on Duration of U.S. Security Role
Political Violence: Suicide Bomber Kills President of Iraqi Council
Israeli Push in Gaza Strip Leaves Up 20 Palestinians Dead
Iraq Cleric Urges Groups to Leave Cities
Bush Says Israel Has Right to Defend Itself
Interrogations: M.P.'s Received Orders to Strip Iraqi Detainees
Gandhi Stakes Her Claim to Lead a Rattled India
For Sniffing Out Land Mines, a Platoon of Twitching Noses
At Least 100 Are Killed in Prison Fire in Honduras

In a New Nigeria, a Once-Exiled Nobelist Still Finds Trouble
Nettuno Journal: A Tiny Corner of Italy That Hasn't Forgotten America
British Police Foil Airport Robbery Attempt

Israeli Army Moves on Rafah Refugee Camp in Gaza
Rice and Palestinian Leader Optimistic on Gaza
Old Iraq Army Could Provide a Leader, Jordan's King Says
U.N. Investigating Top Refugee Official in Sex Harassment Charge
Views Mixed on U.S. Shift on Drugs for AIDS
World Briefings
Holy City: U.S. Forces, Under Attack, Strike Rebel Cleric's Fighters Near Shrine
Nerve Agent: Army Discovers Old Iraqi Shell Holding Sarin, Illicit Weapon

For those counting, the discovery of a weapon filled with a nerve agent in Iraq is deemed to be twenty-first in importance on what arguably can be called a slow news day. A story, which can have far reaching impact on the progress and legitimacy of the Iraq war, is scooped by a 'Platoon of Twitching Noses' (military dogs), the revelations that Iraqi prisoners may be strip searched (the horror, the horror), a 'Tiny Corner of Italy That Hasn't Forgotten America', a prison fire in Honduras, and a foiled robber in a British airport.

The BBC does a little better job than the paper of record. The story is not listed on the BBC main page, but I was able to find it in the MORE FROM MIDDLE EAST section , after the following leads:

Israel's Gaza mission kills 20
US troops 'abused Iraq reporters'
Concerns persist over Iraq jail
Freedom for 'Sadat convict'
Abdullah queries Arafat's future
Israeli demolitions 'a war crime'
How Israeli troops search out Gaza's hidden tunnels
BBC News Online reader relates the plight of Iraqi doctors
World Bank warns of slow progress amid growing violence
Ramallah plans film festival
Lebanon 'smashes Israel spy ring'

Nerve gas bomb explodes in Iraq

While I realize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a pet story of the BBC, is it proper for five related news items, including the much anticipated Ramallah Film Festival, to get more attention than the discovery of sarin?

Like the New York Times and the BBC, CBS does not list the sarin discovery on the front page of the website. The article is eighth on the WORLD page, listed behind the following:

Israel Continues Rafah Attacks
Pentagon Admits Iraq Mistakes
Gandhi Says 'No Thanks' To India
Pope Gives Thanks For Gift Of Life
5 Cities Make 2012 Olympics Cut
Intruders At Windsor Castle

Who Is Abu Zarqawi?
Iraq Sarin Find Worries U.S.

CBS had the highest placement of the three sites analyzed, but somehow an editor at CBS decided the Pope's birthday, the 2012 Olympics and Intruders At Windsor Castle is more newsworthy than the discovery of WMD in Iraq?

The results of looking at other news sites were no different. ABC, MSNBC and every other site I visited, with the exception of Fox News, did not list this as front-page news. Compare this with the Abu Ghraib prison story which has been a lead item for the past two weeks. It is no wonder a recent poll indicates President Bush's disapproval on the handling of Iraq is at 58%, and 54% of the American public do not believe it was worth invading Iraq. The news that supports the case for war is reported, but buried in the middle of meaningless stories to downplay its importance. Most Americans do not have the time to dig deep in the news to find articles on page A15, and only see the headlines on the paper or the sound bytes on TV about the ongoing Abu Ghraib prison 'coverup', attacks on American troops, and other items which highlight the fluid security situation. The media, by showing editorial bias in the news section, causes some Americans to raise serious questions about its objectivity. The media should be the eyes, ears and voice of the people, but when they fail to objectively report the news and downplay significant news that offends their editorial bias, Americans will continue to question their motives and seek their news from alternate sources.

Posted by bill roggio @ 11:55 PM