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Tom – This article was written by a reporter from the Associated Press and was on the back page of the business section. It is a fairly long article and it explains how oil production levels and revenues in Iraq have dropped far below pre-war levels and also below the levels projected by pre-war planners. The article states that these drops in production have been the result of the ongoing insurgency which has targeted oil infrastructure and pipelines. In the article several experts from various investment and oil research firms are quoted, including PVM Vienna, PFC Energy, Barclays bank, and Energy Intelligence Research. These experts predict in the article that oil production in Iraq in 2006 will either stay the same as the preceding year or drop lower.
Linda – Were any other voices or perspectives provided in this article?
Tom – No, the article was framed entirely on the issue of what Iraq’s oil production levels are, and whether they are going up or down. It is taken as a given in the article that increased production is a good thing and that it will help the Iraqi people. At no point is it asked who will really benefit from an increase in Iraqi oil production. A new report entitled “Crude designs: the rip off of Iraq’s oil wealth” reveals that current Iraqi oil policy will allocate the development of at least 64 per cent of Iraq’s reserves to foreign oil companies. This report, co-written by the Groups the New Economics Foundation and War on Want, warns that the current oil contracts being given in Iraq guarantee US and UK oil companies massive profits, with rates of return of 42 per cent to 162 per cent. So telling readers how much oil Iraq is producing is certainly a fact worth reporting on but it only gives the reader part of the story. It is only by telling the reader who actually is actually benefiting from Iraqi oil production that this information has much value in helping the reader understand some of the motivations and actions of the various actors in Iraq.
Linda - On Wednesday, December 7 WZZM 13 ran a story about new research on the connection between shopping and happiness. Jeff Smith, what was the basis for this story?
Jeff - The story is based upon the book of an Emory University neuroscientist named Gregory Berns. He has a new book out entitled "Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment," but viewers wouldn't know this because the channel 13 story never provides the source of the research they mention. They only quote one shopper and then end the story with an appeal for people to go to their website and vote on whether or not shopping makes them happy.
Linda - So there was no information to support the claim that shopping makes you happier?
Jeff - No real information, except that they said that shopping releases dopamine in your system. The news reader simply says that "Dopamine is a chemical that stimulates pleasure." Later in the story they also say "But researchers say beware of the rush you get when you shop because in can lead to blowing your budget." So while the story makes the claim that shopping gives you pleasure, it warns you about spending too much, which seems disingenuous since channel 13 then encourages viewers to send it shopping stories. Another aspect of this piece was that it appears to be a Video News Release. The video footage used does not appear to be local and when I looked online for the author of the book on this subject I came across his university, Emory, which had a link to recent video news releases that the school has produced based on their research.
Linda – On Dec 7th WOOD TV 8 ran a story about fights at a High school in Houston Texas. Tom Schwallie, what was this story about and how was it framed?
Tom – This was a short piece, being about half a minute and it was about how a group of students from New Orleans, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, who are at a high school in Houston, and got into a fight with some of the local students. In the story, the news anchor reads a brief description of the events, noting that “Thirty students were arrested, some appeared to be resisting” and that “Police arrested fifteen students from the Houston area and fifteen from New Orleans.” While the News reader is talking, aerial footage of the students fighting is shown. Although it is not specifically mentioned, from the images shown, it appears that most of the students fighting and being arrested are African American.
Linda – This story has no local relevance to this viewing area. What would warrant it being shown on Channel 8 News?
Tom – Certainly the fact that it had actual footage of violence was likely one reason. The local TV stations have, according to our monitoring work, a marked tendency to show irrelevant, out of viewing area stories if they are accompanied with video containing violence or people getting hurt. It’s also important for people to ask why would they run this story when there have been few other Hurricane Katrina related stories in the local media. No details are provided within this piece to explain what the causes of this school violence is, and more importantly, no information is given as to what plight of the citizens of New Orleans that have been displaced. In September of this year, GRIID hosted a public forum on the state of local media and gave people a chance to speak directly to representatives from both WZZM 13 and WOOD 8. In attendance was an African American man who had just arrived in Grand Rapids from New Orleans, and he pleaded with the local media to be more careful of how the depicted African American victims of Katrina. He spoke of seeing people there working together in very positive ways to overcome an incredibly difficult disaster situation, and yet, he felt the media focused primarily on negative images, such as the infamous “looters” and the unsubstantiated reports of the "horrors" inside the superdome. This story of New Orleans students fighting illustrates what the man at the forum was talking about, a story painting Katrina victims in a negative light while giving the viewer no real information about their plight.
Linda - On December 9, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story entitled "Patriot Act agreement reached." Jeff, what was this story about and how was it framed?
Jeff - The AP article states that Republicans have "reached a White House-backed compromise to renew broad powers granted to law enforcement agencies in the days after the 2001 terrorist attacks on American soil." There is some mention of the other parts of the Patriot Act that are being negotiated by the White House such as law enforcement access to personal data and a 4-year extension on what are called roving wiretaps. Although the article says that "bipartisan criticism flared," the only dissenting voices quoted are those is of Democratic Senators Russ Feingold and Patrick Leahy.
Linda - Are there other parts of the original AP story that were left out of the Press version and are there other perspectives on this issue outside of Washington?
Jeff - There were several sections of the original version omitted from the Press version. The most important part was a quote from 6 critics, 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans who said "We still can, and must, make sure that our laws give law enforcement agents the tools they need while providing safeguards to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans." The larger omission however, was that no other voices or perspectives are provided than that of government officials. This is too big an issue to ignore what citizen groups are saying about the Patriot Act and civil liberties. The story could have sought out comments from the ACLU or the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, both national groups which have a taken a critical position on the Patriot Act. It is also important to mention that nowhere in the story is the legislation cited or where readers could find it in order to make an informed decision when contacting their Representatives and Senators.