Patterico's Pontifications

1/26/2008

L.A. Times Uses Dead Marine As Propaganda (UPDATED) (UPDATED AGAIN)

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 11:06 am



A Marine is murdered, and the L.A. Times puts a huge picture of her coffin in Section A, with a caption that would lead the casual reader to falsely conclude that the Marine was one of our returning war dead. Okie on the Lam explains.

P.S. For it to work, editors would have to assume that a substantial number of people wouldn’t read the subcaption — that they would just glance at the picture, make their assumption, and then turn to the part of the paper they usually read. Like the Sports section, or the comics, or the horoscope.

The editors don’t think anybody does that, do they?

UPDATE: OK, I sloppily read Okie’s post. Very sloppily. It’s no excuse, but perhaps an explanation, that I tapped out the post on a Treo while my kids were doing their swimming lessons. Okie says the picture was on Page A-15, but somehow I got the mistaken impression it was on the front page. I changed the post to replace the phrase “on the front page” with “in Section A” and removed the following language:

The editors knew damn well what they were doing here. Newspaper editors think carefully about how their front page will appear to the reader.

How does this mistake change the post? Pretty significantly, I think. Someone who bothers to root around in the back pages of Section A is much less likely to be misled by a picture like that.

Okie has something of a valid point — many people do flip through the pages of Section A without reading all the articles, and a more meaningful caption would have removed any misimpression that the casual reader might have gotten. But if my inattentive brain had processed the information that this appeared on Page A15 and not Page One, I would have seen this as a far less significant issue — as I do now.

UPDATE x2: After some thought, I’m not comfortable with the assumption I made in this post, that this indicated any attempt by editors to use the picture as “propaganda.” I do think the phrasing of the main portion of the caption has the possibility of misleading the very casual reader, who flips through the pages and glances at things that catch his eye. But it was uncharitable of me to assume that this was deliberate on the editors’ part.

27 Responses to “L.A. Times Uses Dead Marine As Propaganda (UPDATED) (UPDATED AGAIN)”

  1. “Front page?” Okie’s blog post claims the photo was on page A-15.

    You’ve done an admirable job of demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt the Times‘s absurd bias, Patterico, but I think you (and Okie) are reaching a bit on this one. Lance Cpl. Lauterbach’s murder was in the news for awhile, and the photo is a touching tribute to the fallen Marine.

    You say that “for it to work”, the editors would have to assume that their readers are simpletons who wouldn’t bother to read the subcaption. This begs the question of there being an “it” to “work”. And it seems to me that it’s you who’s insulting the intelligence of Times readers, by insisting that the Times sins by not putting enough details into the caption for an incurious, lazy reader to understand the story at a glance.

    Voice of Reason (69bf59)

  2. I agree with VOR. You’re mind-reading how the editors chose the photo in the most unfavorable way possible, when VOR’s alternative explanation makes perfect sense.

    At times like these, when reasonable people can find more than one interpretation, it’s good to do a check on your own feelings about the LAT. I am on your side in getting bias in the media exposed, but here I think your feelings led you astray. Remember, the left will seize upon the weakest link in your examples to discredit you. Don’t give them any inadvertant help.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  3. The L.A. SLIMES has no shame do they now rhwie hitting below the belt maybe its to sor their readers to cancil their subcription to this liberal left-wing rag

    krazy kagu (ef58e5)

  4. I don’t remember seeing the coffins of other murder victims who have been in the news on the cover of the LAT.

    tired (38dc11)

  5. I agree with VOR on this one (hope the poor guy doesn’t start wondering where he’s gone wrong). It’s manipulative, sure, deaths of soldiers sell and isn’t the front page supposed to be a teaser getting passersby to buy the paper?. But any less manipulative than “Marine’s car gets keyed” in the McNulty/Grodner case?

    nk (eeb240)

  6. See my update, folks. VoR (the capitalized version!) is correct that I misread Okie’s post. It changes my view of the significance greatly. I’m embarrassed about it.

    Funny, as I was tapping out the post, a voice in the back of my head was saying: “Did you get something wrong about this?” As a result, I actually went back and double-checked that I was setting forth accurate information — about the Marine’s death, how it occurred, that it wasn’t a war-related death, that it was a female, etc. But I missed the A-15 thing that was staring me right in the face.

    Patterico (4bda0b)

  7. Page numbers aside, the caption should have said “Murdered Marine is carried home.” It makes a world of difference in the picture and context, and the fact that it didn’t makes me suspicious.

    DRJ (517d26)

  8. Yeah, I agree with that, and like I say, I think Okie had a good point.

    I wish I hadn’t obscured that point with a misreading of his post, and thereby exaggerated the significance.

    Patterico (4bda0b)

  9. I understand where Patrick is coming from on his revised statement about my post. If that picture had appeared on page one of the “A” section, with the image having no accompanying story it would have been a much bigger affront. I do think it is evidence of bias, but on a much subtler scale.

    The LAT editors made their position on wanting to have access to pictures of returning military war-dead very clear in another section-A article on Jan. 17, “The American War Dead” where they write:

    Another thing you probably haven’t seen lately is images like the front-page photograph in Wednesday’s Times, which showed the flag-draped coffin of Army Sgt. David J. Hart of Lake View Terrace as it arrived on an airport tarmac. Such images are rare, partly because of a media tendency to see the commonplace as unworthy of coverage and partly because of a calculated effort by the Bush administration to prevent the American people from seeing them.

    Wednesday’s photograph was possible because Hart’s body was flown into Long Beach Airport rather than a military facility, where media photographers are forbidden from chronicling the ongoing human cost of the Iraq war.
    {…}
    Supporters of the war charge that media images of the fallen are inherently political statements. But suppressing those images in defense of a war policy is no less a political act.

    At the top of that linked page it says [You are here: LAT Home > Print Edition > A Section] so I’ll believe them on where it originally was placed. That last sentence sure sounds more like “opinion” than “news” to this ol’ Okie’s ears.

    Regardless, the gist of my post is this: “That’s the thing about bias — as long as you understand where it exists, you can deal with it.”

    Patrick, thanks for the link!

    okie (2ce7a5)

  10. “…The editors don’t think anybody does that, do they?…”
    Of course they do,and they have the focus-group data to back up their assumptions.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  11. Guess the real VoR has returned. His bio showed up in a post from 2005. I’ll use a different moniker to avoid confusion.

    Louisiana Moderate sounds like a good one I suppose.

    Sorry NK, looks as if we are still at less than 5 things we have agreed on but I’ll keep trying.

    Louisiana Moderate (e62670)

  12. Would you consider ‘voiceofreason2′ instead? I’ll miss hearing from the VOR that I know.

    DRJ (517d26)

  13. DRJ,

    Thanks. consider it done.

    voiceofreason2 (e62670)

  14. DRJ,

    I’m thinking about this more. If they had said “murdered” (or even “slain”) couldn’t they be accused of having jumped to a conclusion that hasn’t been resolved in the courts?

    The more I think about it, the less I am inclined to attribute malice or bad faith.

    Patterico (4bda0b)

  15. I thought of that before I left my last comment, so I checked and the DA has already indicted the accused for murder. That means the ME (or maybe the coroner) has already ruled this death a homicide. The media is understandably reluctant to label an accused as a murderer but I’ve never known it to be queasy about designating a victim as a murder victim.

    EDIT: In other words, the courts determine guilt but the ME determines whether foul play was involved – and that’s already been determined.

    DRJ (517d26)

  16. Somebody is wussing out!

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  17. Hey, this isn’t a toughness contest. If we don’t have the goods to make a accusation, we shouldn’t make it.

    Okie’s post disappeared. I want to look at the picture and language used before I comment more. Hopefully he hasn’t lost it for good.

    Patterico (4bda0b)

  18. I agree. This isn’t a toughness contest but newspaper writers (including caption writers) make their living with words and conveying ideas. Just as the Kansas religionists who picket military funerals know they can benefit from the emotion of seeing a military casket, the LA Times’ editors know that, too. I don’t like it when anyone uses a military casket to make a point, no matter how subtle the attempt may be.

    By the way, I’m not trying to change your decision. I just want to point out there are still valid concerns.

    DRJ (517d26)

  19. Very well done! If only the LA and NY Times could correct their mistakes as honestly as you did right here. Here’s to wishing they raise themselves to your ethics of accuracy — even when it hurts.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  20. Mmmm . . . I’m still reflecting on whether I need to, if not “correct,” at least amend the post further regarding the assumptions I made. But I want to look at Okie’s post again.

    Patterico (4bda0b)

  21. FWIW I don’t think you can impute a bad motive based on what I’ve seen, primarily because I think it’s fair to expect people will read the captions and sub-captions. In addition, reasonable people can draw different conclusions from seeing this photo.

    For instance, your first thought was that the reader might view this and think it was a Marine killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. On the other hand, my first thought was that the LA Times was using this casket to bolster the point made in the NY Times’ article about how dangerous troops can be – including dangers to their fellow Marines.

    However, the fact is that when a newspaper demonstrates its willingness to use its pages to futher an agenda, we’re more likely to “see” hidden meanings. But this isn’t the readers’ fault when the newspaper’s actions have caused us to react this way.

    DRJ (517d26)

  22. IMHO your first impression is the correct one.
    We know the MSM, and particularly the LAT, has an agenda. They will do almost anything to advance that agenda.
    I am not convinced of the sincerety of the caption editors. IME they have been wrong too many times, misleading even more. They do not do context well.
    Personally, I subscribe to the “they are always trying to stick-it to somebody” school of thought; unless they can prove their innocence, they’re guilty!
    Color me CYNIC!

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  23. It’s totally reasonable to point out that the caption could easily be misread by a casual reader. Speaking from experience, I know it is easy to assume readers have more knowledge of the context than do the reporters and editors, whose lives revolve around the news.

    The best exposes of media bias, IMO, are those that rely on a maximum of evidence, especially including quotes, and a minimum of mind-reading. Clark Hoyt’s unsubstantiated sliming of Ed Whelan, sotto voce admission he had a point, and refusal to do anything about it because it would legitimize a critic, is perfect. This is called hanging someone with their own words.

    Also, I’d include the fisking of Rutten, who apparently broke the LAT’s own code of ethics by using anonymous sources, The LAT’s refusal to even investigate and Jamie Gold’s flat statement to me that they don’t think Rutten did anything wrong is another case of a damning case of indifference. Perhaps the LAT editors think their Code of Ethics is a living document.

    And please, Mr. Prosecutor, free me from moderation purgatory! It totally sucks not to be able to take part in discussions real time!

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  24. Sorry about that folks. I updated the post yesterday to thank Patrick for the link and for some odd reason WordPress saved it as a “private” post where I could still see it but no one else could. That’s fixed now.

    Okie (2ce7a5)

  25. Bradley,

    I wish I knew how.

    Patterico (4bda0b)

  26. Have you asked the folks at WordPress about the moderation problems? They must have encountered it before.

    Maybe you could deliberately put me in moderation, then take me out. That might unstick some piece of code.

    Bradley J Fikes (1c6fc4)

  27. Patterico,

    I’m posting this to draw attention to Bradley’s last comment on how to handle his moderation problems. Appropriately enough, I found his comment in moderation.

    DRJ (517d26)


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