Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Why Is This The Headline?

(Hat tip: James Taranto's BOTW)

It becomes difficult to not accuse the mainstream media of bias when there are headlines such as this:
8,000 desert during Iraq war
By Bill Nichols, USA TODAY
Well, okay. What's the big deal, right? After all, that headline is perfectly accurate. So why am I annoyed? Because it's misleading:
At least 8,000 members of the all-volunteer U.S. military have deserted since the Iraq war began, Pentagon records show, although the overall desertion rate has plunged since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
At least they had the decency to put that in the first paragraph - but shouldn't the headlines have been "US Desertions Drop by 50% since 9/11" or "Few Desert Army in 2005"?

Putting up a misleading headline as the USAToday did plays into people's biases. The objective of such a headline is to reinforce (or create) the notion that many soldiers are against the Iraq War, when this is in fact not the case. A telling line:

Desertion numbers have dropped since 9/11. The Army, Navy and Air Force reported 7,978 desertions in 2001, compared with 3,456 in 2005. The Marine Corps showed 1,603 Marines in desertion status in 2001. That had declined by 148 in 2005.

The desertion rate was much higher during the Vietnam era. The Army saw a high of 33,094 deserters in 1971 — 3.4% of the Army force. But there was a draft and the active-duty force was 2.7 million.

Desertions in 2005 represent 0.24% of the 1.4 million U.S. forces.

Well, there go the Vietnam comparisons. For every deserter during the Iraq War, there were 14.2 during the Vietnam War. Actually, here's a better quote from the article:
Opposition to the war prompts a small fraction of desertions, says Army spokeswoman Maj. Elizabeth Robbins. "People always desert, and most do it because they don't adapt well to the military," she says. The vast majority of desertions happen inside the USA, Robbins says. There is only one known case of desertion in Iraq.
One! A headline trumpets "8,000 Deserters During Iraq War" - and yet, the article itself notes only one known case of desertion in Iraq. Why not have a headline of "Only One Known Case of Desertion in Iraq"?! Both are equally true, but this one is far more representative of the article underneath. Perhaps some members of the media have an agenda?

Nah, couldn't be.

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  1. Headline writers barely have any idea what is going on.

  2. Yes, but shouldn't they at least read more than 10 words of the article they're making a headline for?!

  3. ezzie, I hope you don't buy into that "liberal bias" bs for real. The only bias in news is towards sensationalism. If you look at this story through that lens, it's obvious why they would do that. Who wants to read about desertions going down? They'd rather be outraged that 8000 soldiers deserted in a time of war!!

    It's just like how the newsmedia love to play local murders or follow the latest pretty white girl kidnapping. The only significantly politically biased mainstream news source out there is FOX. (Well, the media are probably a little more socially liberal than a chunk of the population, but they're also more corporate friendly. I'd say it's a wash, politically.)

  4. To some extent, I agree with you. The news in general will favor sensationalism over even their biases. However, bias does play a role: The NYTimes' own editor blasted the paper for reporting with bias. He argued that while he and the other editors are responsible to blast the policies of the government etc., the job of the journalists was to report the news fairly and accurately.

    In this story specifically, I don't think that it's a sensational story that will be grabbing headlines; I think it's a story that gives a reflection of what soldiers feel about what they're doing. The headline should reflect that.