Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mainstream Media 102: How to make stuff up

(Updated 11:55 p.m. EDT)

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Mainstream Media 101: How to twist words

It's lunchtime, I'm catching up on the news, and Yahoo News' headline "Bush Says Stable Mideast Was a Mirage" made me immediately suspicious.



Here's the full, unedited text of the article, shown on the San Francisco Chronicle's website:
Bush Says Stable Mideast Was a Mirage
- By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

(09-19) 09:34 PDT NEW YORK, (AP) --

President Bush addressed the 61st meeting of the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday with a call for nations to unite to work for a more peaceful world where "extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority."

Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Bush outlined to world leaders his vision of a 21st century framework for global security.

Before his speech, Bush pressed Iran anew to immediately begin negotiations on its nuclear program. He warned that any delay on the part of Tehran would bring consequences.

Iran's defiant pursuit of a nuclear program was at the top of the agenda when Bush talked with French President Jacques Chirac on the sidelines of the three-day U.N. General Assembly meeting. The French leader is balking at the U.S. drive to sanction Iran for defying Security Council demands that it freeze uranium enrichment.

"Should they continue to stall," Bush said of Iranian leaders, "we will then discuss the consequences of their stalling." The president, speaking after his meeting with Chirac, said those consequences would include the possibility of sanctions.

Chirac proposed on Monday that the international community compromise by suspending the threat of sanctions if Tehran agrees to halt its uranium enrichment program and return to negotiations. The U.S. and other countries fear Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is to make fuel for nuclear power plants.

Bush said that Iran must first suspend uranium enrichment "in which case the U.S. will come to the table."

But he also stressed that he and Chirac "share the same objective and we're going to continue to strategize together."

"Time is of the essence," the president said. "Now is the time for the Iranians to come to the table."

Both Bush and Chirac stressed they are working together, and the French president said twice that they see "eye to eye."

Chirac said there never has been any ambiguity in the European Union's position toward Iran's nuclear program.

The French leader also said the European Union would not negotiate with Iran until it suspends uranium enrichment. "We cannot have negotiations if we do not have on one hand prior suspension," Chirac said.

Bush said that he and Chirac also discussed the bloodshed in the Darfur region of Sudan, and hostilities between Israel and Palestinians.

Besides Chirac, Bush also was meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa.

Bush's speech was the last in a series on the war on terror, timed to surround last week's fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to set the tone for the final weeks of the U.S. midterm elections.
Other than the headline, I don't see "mirage" in there, do you? I don't see a single hint of the word. Now if you look here, the article has a different headline and a later timestamp:
Sep 19, 12:58 PM EDT

Bush appeals to Muslims in U.N. speech

By NEDRA PICKLER
Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- President Bush on Tuesday appealed directly to Muslims to assure them that the United States is not waging war with Islam as he laid out a vision for peace in the Middle East before skeptical world leaders at the United Nations.

On the sidelines, Bush pressed Iran to return at once to international talks on its nuclear program and threatened consequences if they do not.

But his speech to the United Nations General Assembly was less confrontational and aimed at building bridges with people in the Middle East angry with the United States.

"My country desires peace," Bush told world leaders in the cavernous main hall at the U.N. "Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. This propaganda is false and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. We respect Islam."

Addressing Iraqis specifically, Bush said, "We will not abandon you in your struggle to build a free nation."

Bush said Iran "must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to speak to the body later Tuesday, but he was not at the country's table in the hall when Bush spoke.

Speaking to Iranians, Bush said their country's future has been clouded because "your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons."

On the crisis in Sudan's violence-wracked region of Darfur, Bush delivered strong warnings to both the United Nations and the Sudanese government, saying that both must act now to avert further humanitarian crisis.

Bush said that if the Sudanese government does not withdraw its rejection of a U.N. peacekeeping force for Darfur, the world body should act over the government's objections. The U.N. Security Council last month passed a resolution that would give the U.N. control over the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, now run mostly ineffectively by the African Union. But Sudan has refused to give its consent.

"The regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force," Bush said. "If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act."

With more than 200,000 people already killed in three years of fighting in Darfur and the violence threatening to increase again, Bush said the "credibility of the United Nations is at stake."

Iran's defiant pursuit of a nuclear program was at the top of the agenda when Bush met earlier with French President Jacques Chirac at the Waldorf Astoria hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying. The French leader is balking at the U.S. drive to sanction Iran for defying Security Council demands that it freeze uranium enrichment.

"Should they continue to stall," Bush said of Iranian leaders, "we will then discuss the consequences of their stalling." The president, speaking after his meeting with Chirac, said those consequences would include the possibility of sanctions.

Chirac proposed on Monday that the international community compromise by suspending the threat of sanctions if Tehran agrees to halt its uranium enrichment program and return to negotiations. The U.S. and other countries fear Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is to make fuel for nuclear power plants.

Bush said that Iran must first suspend uranium enrichment "in which case the U.S. will come to the table."

But he also stressed that he and Chirac "share the same objective and we're going to continue to strategize together."

"Time is of the essence," the president said. "Now is the time for the Iranians to come to the table."

Both Bush and Chirac stressed they are working together, and the French president said twice that they see "eye to eye."

Chirac also said the European Union would not negotiate with Iran until it suspends uranium enrichment. "We cannot have negotiations if we do not have on one hand prior suspension," Chirac said.

Bush's challenge is to build international support to confront multiple problems in the region: the Iran issue, a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, armed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and unabated violence in Iraq.

Bush planned to meet later Tuesday with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Bush's speech was the last in a series on the war on terror, timed to surround last week's fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to set the tone for the final weeks of the U.S. midterm elections.

Bush was speaking in the same room where four years and one week ago he made another plea for action in the Middle East. On that day, Bush said Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of deadly chemical and biological agents that the United Nations must confront.

He was wrong, but still forged ahead with war against Iraq without the support of many other nations. And he is still trying to rebuild credibility with the body, experts say.

"The sense outside of the U.S. is that the United States is responsible for many of the failures in Iraq, first by going in mostly alone and then by incompetent administration," said Jon Alterman, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The problem with the way he's talked about democracy in the Middle East is not that people see it as undesirable," Alterman said, "it's that people see it as naive. He needs to persuade cynical people that not only is he sincere, but it's achievable, and here's what they need to do to make it so."
And here's what it looks like on Yahoo's news headlines:



So what's the matter, couldn't they back up their original claim? Was the original headline just plain bullshit, which we've come to expect from mainstream media?

All this notwithstanding, nobody ever claimed Iraq would be easy. Nobody ever claimed it would be bloodless, contrary to Pat Robertson's myth that Bush told him there would be "no casualties." (As the article shows, Robertson also said, "I mean, the Lord told me it was going to be A, a disaster, and B, messy.") What President Bush and his administration did say is that the people of Iraq would welcome us as liberators -- and they have, with the exception of the insurgents. The elections proved it: tens of millions of Iraqis risking their lives to vote in truly free elections (with many voting for the first time).

Update: It looks like President Bush did use the word mirage, just not in the way the headlines implied. You can find the full text of the remarks on the White House website:
Some have argued that the democratic changes we're seeing in the Middle East are destabilizing the region. This argument rests on a false assumption, that the Middle East was stable to begin with. The reality is that the stability we thought we saw in the Middle East was a mirage. For decades, millions of men and women in the region have been trapped in oppression and hopelessness. And these conditions left a generation disillusioned, and made this region a breeding ground for extremism.
So in fact President Bush was not talking about stability in post-Saddam Iraq being a "mirage," but that Middle East stability is a "mirage" because it was never "stable to begin with."

What really happened that necessitated changing the headline within 30 minutes? Perhaps an idiot reporter and her equally stupid editor think they had a great "Gotcha!" headline (implying that Bush admitted some sort of "failure" in Iraq), then they realized how obvious it was that they quoted Bush out of context?

Maybe this reporter didn't keep good enough notes, and in rushing to submit the first article about Bush's speech, she somehow didn't realizing she didn't say one damn thing about the most important word in the headline -- a quoted word, in fact. Maybe it was an innocent mistake, and I can dismiss occasional occurrences as such. However, when something happens over and over, even "incompetence" isn't enough to excuse it.

Those of you who read me regularly know I'm far from a Bush shill. Basically, I support him when he pushes for tax cuts and privatization, but I cringe when he moves toward big government. Nonetheless, I cannot believe how mainstream media consistently goes after the man. And I thought they were merciless and vicious toward his father! It was bad enough that every nightly news broadcast in 1992 seemed to feature something on the allegedly "bad economy" (which Bush had nothing to do with). With George W. Bush, no matter what he's said since he announced his candidacy, mainstream media tries to find some way to spin it.

Just remember:

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