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On Thursday, February 17, WOOD TV 8 ran a story about a Kentwood man charged with soliciting what he believed was a 14 year old through the internet. Jeff, how did channel 8 frame this story?
Jeff – This was a very short story and was reported like most crime stories. They told viewers who committed the crime, what the charges were, and an estimate of years in jail these charge might carry. We are also told that this was a sting operation conducted by the State’s Attorney General Office, but no context is provided for the crime in this story.
Linda – What are some ways that reporters could approach these kinds of stories?
Jeff – There is an effort in the field of journalism to report on these kinds of incidents as Public Health Stories, not just crime stories. For instance, if someone is in a car accident, reporters will now ask the question “was alcohol involved?” A simple question, but one that can make all the difference in the world. In the channel 8 story no data is provided on how often online solicitation occurs, what is the primary gender of those doing the soliciting, nor are viewers provided with any information on local resources that might safe guard children from sexual predators online. If people want a local resource they can contact the Kent County Sexual Assault Action Team.
Linda – On Friday 18 the Grand Rapids Press ran an article from the Associated Press about John Negroponte being appointed as the new National Intelligence director. Tom, what did this article give the reader a complete picture of the career of Negroponte?
Tom – Well, the version of the article that appeared in the GR Press left out some very important context. Negroponte is a very controversial character, garnering very strong criticism from numerous human rights groups for his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. These criticisms stem from Negropontes role in the Iran –Contra affair, as well as his white washing of the Hondurans Military’s human rights abuses. The GR Press version mentions this fact in only one line, saying that “His U.N. nomination was held up for half a year in 2001 over criticism regarding his record as ambassador in Honduras from 1981 to 1985, the time of the Iran-Contra scandal.” In the original version of the article, the reporter also notes that “critics suggested he (Negroponte) had played a key role in carrying out the Reagan administration's covert strategy to crush the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua, an element of the Iran-Contra scandal.” And that “Human rights groups also alleged that Negroponte acquiesced in rights abuses by Honduran death squads funded and partly trained by the CIA.” These statements were left out of the GR Press version.
Linda – Were any of the Human rights organizations critical of Negroponte given voice or even specifically mentioned in this article?
Tom – No they were not. As we at GRIID have observed in our media monitoring, on political issues, government and military voices, that is “official voices”, are far more likely to be heard than human rights groups or other non governmental organizations, particularly when they say things that run counter to the “official” message. In this particular instance every single person mentioned in the article is a government official. Critical news consumers should ask themselves why doesn’t the reporter talk to any non governmental sources? Human Rights Watch, arguably the most respected Human rights organization in the world issued a statement voicing grave concern over Negropontes nomination as did the Center for Justice and Accountability and the Committee for Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras. If the role of the journalist is to search out and present critical voices, then these Human Rights Groups would be obvious choices for an article on Negroponte.
Jeff – Both channel 8 and 13 reported on Negroponte’s nomination as well. The WZZM 13 story was very short, only mentioning that Negroponte is currently serving as US Ambassador to Iraq. The WOOD TV 8 story provides more information, with a more detailed look at Negroponte’s diplomatic history and even an acknowledgement of the claims made by human right groups about Negroponte’s role in supporting death squad activity in Honduras. However, this claim is not pursued with a comment from Negroponte, nor do viewers get to hear from people who have made such claims. For independent, non-partisan perspectives on Negroponte, check out the links provided in this post from Media Mouse.
Linda – This past Saturday WZZM 13 ran a story about a March against violence here in Grand Rapids. Tom, what was this about and how was the story presented.
Tom – This story was about a march coordinated by religious leaders in the city's black community. The organizers said that the march was partly in response to Police Chief Dolan’s comments from a month ago that almost all the murders in Grand Rapids last year were perpetrated by and inflicted upon minorities.
Linda – How did WZZM 13 frame this story?
Tom – Quite frankly, they seemed to completely miss the point of the march. The WZZM story framed the march as merely a statement against violence, leaving the impression that the marchers were focused on just promoting less violence within the black community. At no point did the WZZM 13 story mention that one of the key components of the march was to criticize policies and behavior of the police as well. According to co-organizer Bishop Walter Durham, the rally and march was the first phase of an effort to persuade the Grand Rapids City Commission to change its long-standing "hindering and opposing" ordinance. This was left out of the WZZM story. Interestingly, the footage WZZM 13 showed of the march included several shots of the banner which was at the front of the march, a banner which clearly says “Families of the wrongfully convicted”. Now, this organizational name would seem to indicate that these people are not just upset with violence within their community, but also feel that they have been treated unfairly by a justice system that is supposed to protect them. Again to quote Bishop Durham “"We're not attacking the police officers themselves because they are the same officers we need to help us, what we're attacking is the policy, not the officers." None of these criticisms of the GRPD policy were discussed in the WZZM story, leaving the viewer with a rather incomplete picture of what these community activists were trying to accomplish.