Thursday, July 26, 2007

Headlines, Spin Jobs and Threat Lumping

Bryan Bender's headline article on the front page of the Boston Globe Analyst counters Bush on Al Qaeda: Says biggest threat is in S. Asia, not Iraq is a good example of how the press tries to spin the news.

Reading his piece carefully, we see Bender doing a "spin job" in order to cobble together a seeming contradiction. A contradiction that was not asserted by the congressional witnesses he cites, but instead by “Senator John F. Kerry, who chaired a similar hearing yesterday of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

Bender fails to identify why it is a contradiction for Bush to say that Iraq is the "main battlefront" (implying there are multiple battlefronts) with al Qaeda. Nor does he say why it should be that Bush’s assertion is inconsistent with the al Qaeda global command center being located somewhere in hinterlands of Pakistan.

For historical comparison, wasn't North Africa at one point the “main battlefront” against Hitler's Germany?

Bender spins the contradiction by engaging in a bit of "threat lumping" (ironically, an accusation made against Bush that he quotes in his piece) of his own.

How does he do it? Bender first “threat lumps” by lumping together for comparison Bush’s characterization of Iraq as the "main battlefront" against al Qaeda with the threat posed by the presence of al Qaeda's global leadership in South Asia. Bender characterizes the latter as the "more immediate threat to the United States."

In making that threat comparison, however, Bender leaves it to his reader to discern that by "immediate threat" he necessarily excludes daily battlefield attacks, mostly in Iraq.

So, while Bender on the one hand “lumps” the relative magnitude of these “threats” together to spin his contradiction, he limits the scope of his definition of “immediate threat” to exclude daily battlefield activity with al Qaeda.

In the end, it’s not clear what Bender really means by “immediate threat” to the United States, evidently he means potential attacks against US interests anywhere but Iraq, or perhaps as limited as attacks on US soil against civilian "soft" targets.

Nevertheless, by excluding daily "battlefront" activity, Bender invalidates the comparison with Bush’s characterization of Iraq as the “battlefront against al Qaeda" that is the thrust of his headline article.

But does that matter once you've grabbed your headline?

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