Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Questionable Accuracy

Here's a story out of Afghanistan:

Afghan forces kill 2 Taliban, woman, child in siege
By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan security forces surrounded a house in the capital Kabul on Wednesday and traded gunfire with Taliban insurgents before blowing up the building and killing two militants as well as a woman and child inside, officials said.

The two dead Taliban fighters were involved in a botched attempt to assassinate President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, but they had also received help from some government officials, senior ministers and a security official told a news conference.

"Investigations make clear that the enemy had infiltrated to some extent into some of our security organs and those involved have been arrested with all their networks," said Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.

The identities of those who helped facilitate the attack would be revealed after the president's approval, said the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Amrullah Saleh.

Taliban gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at a state parade on Sunday sending President Hamid Karzai, his cabinet and the military top brass diving for cover. Three people were shot dead the before troops killed three Taliban attackers.

The same Taliban network was behind both attacks, Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel said.

Afghan security forces surrounded the house on a hillside close to the old city during the night following tip-offs from those arrested after Sunday's violence, Wardak said.

After about 10 hours of battling the militants, NDS officers blew up the house killing the two Taliban fighters and a woman and child inside, Saleh said.

OK. So what's the problem with this story? The headline. I firmly believe that one can be accurate while still slanting the news to point the reader in the direction the writer wants them to go, or to elicit an underlying emotion that can influence the reader's perspective.

This story is about Taliban insurgents being tracked down, fought and killed. The fact that there was a woman and child in the house could have been presented in a number of ways, but the writer here chose to make it a point from the beginning that the woman and child were killed by security forces -- and the headline makes the same point, that the fact that the woman and child died is one of the main points of the story that the reader should come away with.

If a woman and child are in the house with Taliban militants engaged in a 10-hour battle, are they necessarily innocent civilians?

First off, women and youths have taken part in suicide bombings, so I don't think gender and age automatically disqualify someone as an insurgent.

As well, a child can be 1, 5, 12 or 15 ... so the fact that no age for the child is given, the reader doesn't really know how much of a "child" that child actually was.

Take into consideration the fact that the pair were in the house, for a 10-hour battle, and could have gotten out -- so were they there on their own? Were they held hostage by the Taliban (because as has been seen numerous times, radical Muslim fighters have no problem hiding among women and children so that shooting back at them makes the defender the aggressor)?

To me, the fact that a woman and child were killed in the battle is a side note, one that should not be in the headline, not in the lead of the story. And, if the reporter was going to make such a point of it, then he should have investigated the pair more before making it.

The way I see it, the "big news" in the story would be that Afghan forces found, fought and killed people they believe responsible for an assassination attempt. Bringing in the mysterious woman and child is just a way to make the reader lean toward the viewpoint that the Afghan security forces kill women and children.

You see it all the time -- when Palestinians launch rockets into Israel, you never hear things like "and the rocket landed near a bunch of kids," or "Palestinians fired a rocket into a marketplace where there were dozens of women and children" .... but as soon as Israel strikes back and blows up a house full of bloodthirsty Hamas militants loading their weapons for the next attack, you're sure to be told that "a 2-year-old boy was hit with shrapnel," or you'll be told exactly how far away the nearest child was.

In the story above, you're briefly told about the Taliban firing rockets and guns into a parade -- but were you told if any children or women were in the vicinity? What about the 3 people that were killed in that attack? Nothing.

Read all the news stories, you'll see the pattern -- any time Israel strikes Hamas, or coalition forces strike al-Qaida, or Afghan forces strike the Taliban, you're sure to read about innocent women and children killed in those instances, and the stories never examine the fact that the terrorists seem to always be surrounded by women and children.

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