March 17, 2003

What's Newsworthy?

Historian and Slate columnist David Greenberg examines the recent differences in news coverage between the American and the foreign press, and offers an interesting look at how news judgment may be affected by patriotism and the pack mentality.

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Greenberg points that "unflattering aspects of America's foreign policy have (repeatedly) gotten big play overseas while receiving fleeting comment or shrugs at home."

One of the stories Greenberg cites regards two Afghan detainees who died while in the custody of U.S. Army soldiers. While the New York Times reported (on March 4, Page 14) that "the United States military has begun a criminal investigation into the death of an Afghan man in American custody in December, a death described as a ''homicide'' by an American pathologist," Greenberg says "newspapers abroad, in contrast, responded with indignation."

He writes:

"While U.S. papers used the Army investigation as the news hook, suggesting that responsible officials were cracking down on anomalous behavior, foreign journals implied that American brutality was not out of the ordinary. 'U.S. Prisoners Beaten to Death,' read a headline in Melbourne. The lead paragraph of the Independent of London's account said that the 'kill[ings]"' were 'reviving concerns that the U.S. is resorting to torture in its treatment of Taliban fighters and suspected [al Qaeda] operatives.'"

"What are we to make of these disparate takes on the same events?" Greenberg asks, and then answers by exploring how bias, for the most part unintended, and inertia, typically unrecognized, can color news judgment.

After you read Greenberg's column, jump over to Andrew Cline's essay on structural bias in the news media.

 David Greenberg We Don't Even Agree On What's Newsworthy

Posted by Tim Porter at March 17, 2003 04:24 PM