29th November 2011
That’s right — once more we’re talking about an article that is talking about an article that is talking about a situation. But I offer no apologies, because (as with political and military intelligence) knowing how we come to find out about something is often as interesting as the something itself.
In this case, we have a major news organization (The Washington Post) which (in theory) ought to be reporting (i.e. telling us the facts) about a situation — which it does, after a fashion, but in a way that would (I suggest) cause an objective observer to wonder whether this organization is really qualified to do what it is nominally in business to do (give people the facts).
Now, anybody with any knowledge of the legal process by which foreigners enter this country legitimately (and that knowledge isn’t difficult to acquire) will appreciate that it’s like pushing a rope through an acre of quicksand. (I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you….) And so it doesn’t take any great stretch of imagination to suppose that those who have successfully navigated this Confidence Course might resent the ‘queue-jumpers’ who don’t bother to wait their turn or touch all the bases.
Yet the entire tone of the Washington Post article is cast in the form of a ‘man bites dog’ story, as if this possibility had not even occurred to Pamela Constable, the reporter, and her editors. Even worse, it is written from the perspective of an assumption that it would just as certainly not have occurred to the supposed readers of the article. (We all do this. We don’t tell our friends about the weird thing that happened to us on the way to work unless we think that they’ll find it equally weird.)
‘Aha! Liberal media bias!’ Yeah, that seems clear. And it’s bothersome in at least two ways.
What if the reporter had decided not to report on this particular story? After all, we don’t tell our friends about every weird thing that happens on the way to work; only stuff that’s really really weird; or if we have sufficient leisure to cover the only slightly weird. So this story could easily have gotten passed by, which means that the newspapers readers might not ever have heard about it. And these are folks that supposedly would have found it weird as well, this thing that an informed and objective observer would have found perfectly understandable. What other perfectly understandable things that they would have found weird are they not reading about, simply because it didn’t survive the level-of-weirdness filter of a particular reporter or a particular editor on a particular day at the Washington Post?
Equally disturbing: What other things are Washington Post reporters not reporting on, precisely because they are not weird in the view of the reporter or editor? It’s not a stretch to imagine that, since they apparently have a range of perfectly understandable things that they consider weird and thus ‘news’, there might also be a range of weird things that they think perfectly understandable and therefore ‘not news’.
So the information getting fed to the readers of the Washington Post gets filtered from two directions. And the readers of the Washington Post, the premier news organ of the nation’s capital, include the people who run the country. If that doesn’t bother you, then you haven’t been paying attention.
This is where we step up a level of abstraction and consider the Newsbusters article about the Washington Post article. It mocks the Post’s article (and rightly so) because of its biased coverage of a perfectly-understandable-thing-as-weird, but doesn’t even suggest the possibility that there might be bias in the other direction, the weird-thing-as-perfectly-understandable — and, in that, it’s coverage is incomplete.
Not that I have any room to talk; I do that sort of thing all the time here, typically because I have a day job and this is just a hobby for me, so my time is limited.
But I do like to bring up, when I can, the fact that no matter how thorough any coverage of an issue might appear to be, there’s always something that doesn’t get covered, and that un-covered something might be as important as (or even more important than) what got coverage.