• The Lapdog Press

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    you ever wanted to see a prime example of our supine media, here
    it is.

    Stop now, read the article first, and mentally digest it before
    you begin.

    order that facts are presented in an article is important. Most
    people don't read anything but a headline to decide if they want
    to read an article. Even if they don't continue, the person stores
    away the headline as a summary of the whole story, filling in
    the blanks. When reading, very few people read past the opening
    couple of paragraphs. That and those capricious editors are why
    journalism schools teach the inverted pyramid approach to writing.
    Important paragraphs at the start, less important at the bottom,
    and write so the editor can cut the story at the end of any sentence.
    Take a look at the headline, and see what it immediately suggests:

    Prompts Landing At Dulles

    Man Approached Cockpit Despite Ban

    you didn't even read beyond the headline, since you were only
    flipping through the paper. You might think, "Hey, they caught
    some guy doing something fishy around the cockpit on a flight
    to DC. I wonder what he was up to. Probably no good." The
    headline mentions the man in a negative light twice. We are immediately
    suspicious of this furtive character loitering around the cockpit.
    He did it "Despite (the) Ban", just who does he think
    he is! Now that we've set the stage with the headline, look at
    who is quoted and in what order:

    Government) Authorities, an FBI spokesman, a US-Air Spokesman,
    a passenger, several passengers, an Airport Authority Spokesman,
    the FBI Spokesman (again), an Airport Authority Spokesman (again),
    a US-Air Spokesman (again), the FAA (who confirmed nothing, twice),
    Authorities (again, who?), the arrested man's mother.

    the tally runs: Government 7, Industry 2, Passengers 2, and Adversarial
    Citizen 1, Accused 0. Government spokesmen who were not even first
    hand witnesses get over half of the quotes, including the first
    two slots. Passengers on the plane get two, the man's mother gets
    the last word, which is unlikely to be read, and is unrelated
    anyway, and its not even mentioned if the "suspect"
    was contacted.

    second paragraph is a prime example of the "free press"
    acting as little more than scribes for government press flaks.
    Read this through, and we'll dissect it.

    passenger, Raho N. Ortiz, 33, refused to follow a new federal
    rule requiring passengers to remain seated in the last half-hour
    of an approach to National, said Chris Murray, an FBI spokesman.

    denotes a willful decision made in spite of knowing the consequences
    of an action. It presupposes that Mr. Ortiz knew this special
    rule in advance, and decided to get up anyway. Isn't that a loaded
    word to use considering the circumstances, and the description
    offered by the passengers that Mr. Ortiz complied immediately
    and kept apologizing? Maybe he was asleep; maybe he was wearing
    headphones; maybe he was typing on his laptop and didn't hear
    the announcement; maybe he was daydreaming while staring out the
    window. Let's rewrite that sentence, change just the word "refused",
    and see how it changes our perception of the story:

    passenger, Raho N. Ortiz, 33, forgot to follow a new federal rule
    requiring passengers to remain seated in the last half-hour of
    an approach to National, said Chris Murray, an FBI spokesman.

    different take on the events, eh? Our would-be terrorist looks
    more like a normal person, instead of a pencil-thin mustachioed
    bad guy. Post writers who cared about reporting should challenge
    an FBI spokesman instead of just quoting him. It'd be easy. "Can
    you really say refused, since the guy claims he forgot?"
    If the FBI wants to assign motive anyway, it's the reporter's
    job to think clearly enough to realize spin, and leave it out
    of the story. An unbiased, factual statement would not assign
    motive. It would look like this:

    passenger, Raho N. Ortiz, 33, left his seat in violation of a
    new federal rule requiring passengers to remain seated in the
    last half-hour of an approach to National.

    facts, no motives. Let's trash the entire second paragraph and
    re-writing it as a quote biased from the passenger's point of

    passenger, Raho N. Ortiz, 33, was arrested for leaving his seat
    to use the restroom. "I guess they announced the rule along
    with all the other stuff about putting up your seatback and tray
    table, but I wasn't really paying attention. I got up to use the
    restroom, and these guys started waving guns and yelling at me
    to get down, so I did."

    asked about the felony charges, Mr. Ortiz replied. "I couldn't
    believe that they would arrest me for forgetting about a new rule
    that only applies to this one airport."

    we see ourselves as the passenger. Just an ordinary person worried
    about getting our luggage, and meeting our ride at the curb. Get
    up to pee, and WHAM! handcuffed in the aisle.

    about the other passengers. They are all eye witnesses, with no
    probable bias one way or the other. Why only two quotes from them?
    Only one of the passengers was directly quoted in the article,
    and then only about Ortiz. This little snippet gives us an idea
    what the situation on the plane might have been like:

    said they briefly thought that the plane was being hijacked and

    they afraid that Mr. Ortiz was hijacking the plane, and thank
    goodness for those sky marshals, or were they afraid that two
    plainclothes guys with guns ordering everyone to put their hands
    on the seat were the hijackers. Were they thankful that the sky
    marshals acted to stop Mr. Ortiz, since he practically sprinted
    to the front of the plane (he walked briskly according to the
    non-witness US-Air spokesman, remember), or was everyone miffed
    at an overreaction since a simple reminder from a flight attendant
    would have sufficed? This technique is called bias by omission.
    Passengers should constitute the majority of the interviewees,
    since they are the best source of unbiased information about the
    whole affair. The one passenger interviewed and quoted by name
    gives exculpatory evidence in favor of Mr. Ortiz. The other passengers
    don't come off too favorably for the sky marshals.

    questions, and negative comments from the other passengers might
    put the government, the sky marshals, and the special new rule
    in a bad light, however, and Washington Post reports don't
    appear to be in the business of doing that.

    at the very end of the article, Mr. Ortiz's mother gets her turn.
    Getting the last word might seem like a good thing, but it's a
    curse in the newspaper world. Hardy anyone reads the entire article,
    so putting the quote at the bottom is a sure way to kill anyone
    reading it or recalling it. This technique is called bias by position.
    Mrs. Ortiz is not exactly the best person to act as an advocate
    for her son. Her one quote is a PC-laden preferred minority defense.
    No mention is made of an attempt to contact Mr. Ortiz, although
    the Post tells us they tried to call the EPA. Why? Was he unavailable
    for comment at press time? That's hard to believe since he was
    released by 8:30 pm, and no less than 5 people at the Post worked
    on this story. Maybe a lawyer would have a cogent defense for
    himself, or scathing remarks for the government, or nothing to
    say at all about his employer, in which case "Mr. Ortiz (was
    not available for / refused to) comment." would be nice.

    that we've asked all the relevant questions in our role as watchdog
    press, instead of lapdog media, let's change the headline to something
    more appropriate:

    Marshals Order Landing At Dulles

    Man Forgot Ban, Headed for Head

    the entire character of the story, doesn't it. Our immediate bias
    is against the government's overreaction to a bathroom visit,
    and Mr. Ortiz seems more like a Walter Mitty daydreamer than a
    foiled terrorist. The interesting sub-plot to this entire affair
    centers around 3 other facts: first, Mr. Ortiz had a bit of pot
    with him, second, he's a Navajo Indian, and third, he's an EPA

    felony charges have been dropped, and thank goodness. One is left
    to wonder however, if a non-lawyer, non-government official, non-preferred
    minority with a bag of pot would have been let off as well. I
    can imagine a situation where a white bricklayer with a bag of
    pot gets the book thrown at him. The felony "not sitting
    on approach to DC" charge stays, and felony "Interstate
    Drug Trafficking", "Possession with Intent to Distribute"
    and other drug related charges are heaped on to a misdemeanor
    charge of owning a restricted vegetable.

    this entire affair will cause Mr. Ortiz to rethink his career
    at the tyrannical EPA, now that he's briefly tasted the warped
    justice of the FAA from the wrong end of the barrel. If only the
    same could be said for the Washington Post writers who
    use loaded words, don't question authority, use bias of position
    and omission as well as leading headlines to warp our perception
    of the news. The media is no longer an honorable 4th
    estate, asking the tough questions to keep the government's employees
    and actions under scrutiny. They now act more like a wire service
    for a legion of government spokespeople, giving us little more
    than we would get out of a government run newspaper.

    15, 2001

    John Keller
    him mail]
    owns a Technology
    and a Real
    business in Atlanta, GA.

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