Another reminder of how the L.A. Times distorts the news.
The story is simple. Woman babysits a newborn baby and physically abuses the child. She fractures the child’s skull, and breaks his ribs and legs. The broken bones have healed but the child still has damage to his optic nerve. The defendant is convicted and sentenced to six years in state prison. State law says she must serve 85% of that time, but prison officials mess up the paperwork and make her serve only 50%. The mistake is discovered after she is released. Although she is now pregnant, holding down two jobs, and has not had problems on parole, she is rearrested and sent back to prison to serve the balance of her term.
I just told the story that I read in the paper, in a fairly straightforward and balanced fashion. That’s one way to tell the story. Not very dramatic or exciting — perhaps because it’s not, really.
There is another way you could tell it, of course. Include a headline about the baby’s injuries; show a picture of the injured child with his parents, together with a caption about their anger at the woman’s early release — why, you could even stick in a snide comment, perhaps couched in a quote from the victim’s family — about the sort of discipline her own child will face.
Or, you could spin everything the other way, to make her seem like a victim.
How do you think the L.A. Times portrays the story? You already know the answer:
Editors know most people will only see the headline and the picture, and maybe read the caption. Hey, all the other stuff is in there, they would defensively insist if you called them on it. They would maintain their story is balanced and fair.
And it’s true, all the facts are seemingly there. But the way it is presented — the headline, choice of photo, and recounting of the tale from her point of view — is designed for drama and sympathy. You have to read the whole thing to get the full picture. You have to get to the seventh paragraph to learn about the fractured skull; the 20th paragraph to learn about the broken legs and ribs; and the 21st paragraph to learn about the child’s continuing problems with his optic nerve. But the fact that the woman is pregnant and a “model parolee” is helpfully crammed into the first two paragraphs.
Much more dramatic that way, you see.
Those few readers who make their way through the whole story will feel that they have been misled regarding the alleged unfairness of the system’s actions. But how many such readers actually bother?
It would be infuriating . . . if this sort of pro-defendant media slant had not occurred so many times before.
Disclaimer: I personally know Oscar Plascencia, the prosecutor quoted in the article. He and I have not spoken about the story or the case.