John Leo

Another front-page "They Killed My Baby" effort followed the day after the market blast, this time headlined "A Boy Who Was Like a Flower," reporting on the death of a young Baghdad teen. As in many Shadid articles, aggrieved Iraqis seem to erupt frequently in well-sculpted, articulate, anti-American arguments: "This war is evil. It is an unjust war. They have no right to make war against us. Until now, we were sitting in our houses comfortable and safe."

Some, but not all, of the emotional pitching of these pieces comes from the obvious fact that reporters in Baghdad work under the surveillance of government handlers. These handlers can provide good access to reporters who cooperate. They can also have uncooperative reporters expelled, and they can have tongues of uncooperative interviewees removed.

But even in the absence of surveillance, highly emotional reporting is dicey stuff. It can zero in on random or rare events, like a wildly off-course smart bomb, and present them as symbols of America's whole effort in Iraq. A bombing mistake is not a strong argument against any war, but in Shadid's reporting it certainly seemed like one. Unlike traditional, straightforward reporting (see John Burns' able and thorough coverage of the market bombing in the Times), high emotional coverage pushes the reader beyond the facts and toward a strong emotional response.

This is particularly true if editors think it's a good idea to attach over-the-top headlines like "The Whole World Cries." Enough. Our emotions are already fully engaged in this war. Just give us the facts.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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