some atrocious reporting from the usually responsible UK Guardian
October 29, 2001 3:41 PM   Subscribe

some atrocious reporting from the usually responsible UK Guardian Just an example of bad conclusions from little information. The sensationalist title of this story, reprinted from the Observer, is, "Anthrax attacks' 'work of neo-Nazis,'" (which seems like bad grammar to boot - why the apostrophe after "attacks"?) and then it begins, "Neo-Nazi extremists within the US are behind the deadly wave of anthrax attacks against America, according to latest briefings from the security services and Justice Department."

But if you read the actual article, here's the closest thing they have to a quote or face supporting this:

'We've been zeroing in on a number of hate groups, especially one on the West Coast,' a source at the Justice Department told The Observer yesterday. 'We've certainly not discounted the possibility that they may be involved.'

Is it just me, or is this drawing a lot out of a little, and just confusing the situation?
posted by moth (20 comments total)

I don't agree, the briefing seems to suggest that some of the most compelling leads point to anti-American milita, not al-Qaeda. Why is it confusing to report these briefings?

The Observer is a weekly, and so is not exactly locked into a 24/7 news cycle. But is this a bad thing?
posted by laukf at 4:04 PM on October 29, 2001

moth: In the future, please try and keep front page posts a little shorter. Thanks.
posted by gd779 at 4:06 PM on October 29, 2001

I find it interesting that a British paper extrapolates 'neo Nazi' from 'hate groups'. Is this a standard UK assumption? There are so many hate groups in the US to choose from.. rumors are going around that it could be a group like the Abortion Clinic bombers, who are certainly not neo-Nazi's. We are a melting-pot of hate groups too.
posted by dness2 at 4:28 PM on October 29, 2001

But surely if a paper writes a headline Anthrax attacks' 'work of neo-Nazis' ... i.e with neo-Nazis in quotemarks, this implies that these words are taken from the source. Is this an extrapolation or just quoting a heavy hint from an off the record breifing?
posted by laukf at 4:36 PM on October 29, 2001

I wish the various networks, news rags, and pundits would just admit that we don't fucking know who's behind the anthrax attacks. I'd bet that the happy folks at USAMRIID have a pretty good idea of where the stuff came from, but you can bet your ass they're not talking to the press.

This stuff is mean. Opinions vary as to whether Joe Smith (or Abdul Akeem) can just whip this stuff up in the backyard shed, but the consensus seems to be that the stuff sent to Sen. Daschle was highly refined and "weaponized" (treated with chemicals to aerosolize). The scary thing is that it might be possible for small groups of individuals to produce this kind of anthrax.

I wish the media would just shut up about it rather than speculate endlessly.
posted by mrmanley at 5:32 PM on October 29, 2001

Not main-page material but here's an article about a "new terrorist attack" within the "next few days". Ashcroft keeps scaring the shit out of people for nothing. Whatever, I know I'll "be on alert".
posted by bloggboy at 5:45 PM on October 29, 2001

Ashcroft keeps scaring the shit out of people for nothing.

Would you feel the same way if another attack occurred and then found out that Ashcroft had foreknowledge that such an event was going to take place but had said nothing to the press?
posted by MrBaliHai at 6:00 PM on October 29, 2001

MrBaliHai: I believe it was the great Shakespeare who once said, "Damnedth if thy do, damnedth if thy don't"
posted by geoff. at 6:11 PM on October 29, 2001

Shakespeare? I thought it was Alan Parson's Project.

Truthfully the mass media is a lot of wild speculation right now. Admittedly though I must agree with BloggBoy: we don't know. Assuming the Anthrax came from al-Qaeda is pretty wild speculation, and falling into the trap that whoever did do it wants people to think. I doubt it's Neo-Nazis. I even doubt it's the same militant buttheads that encouraged Tim McVeigh, though I'm not ruling them out. It could just as easily be some booksmart but street-dumb college kid in a dorm somewhere who thought it was a keen prank.

Remember the L.A. Riots? Not all those people robbed and vandalized because they felt moral outrage. Most of them just knew it was an ideal time to get away with it. The cops couldn't catch everybody.

It's the perfect crime. Kill people while the police are busy looking for someone else. The police have literally nothing to go on with the Anthrax crap. There's a very good chance that whoever is doing the Anthrax crap is going to get away with it, and that's something the media does not want to report. Bad for ratings. At least the wild speculation gives some people the illusion that there is hope.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:17 PM on October 29, 2001

laukf, quote marks don’t neccessarily mean the writer is quoting anyone. Quotemarks can imply the word has a different meaning that what it represents. When a word is quoted but non sourced, it can mean the thing represented is actually something else. If you were wearing a kilt, I could say, “I like your ‘pants’.” Aka, “ironic” quotemarks.

You have examples of this in the second and fifth paragraphs.

But yeah, it may likely be right-wing fundies but nobody freaking knows. The evidence available and history of these groups supports the theory, but that's all it is. May be that way for a long time.
posted by raaka at 7:40 PM on October 29, 2001

The Guardian is trying to communicate to non-Americans what the American anti-government fringe represents. Neo-Nazis may be Godwinesque but it's close enough for overseas work; many of them are anti-Semitic, whether or not that's their main raison d'etre. See ZOG aka Zionist Occupation Goverment {caution: ugly} for a primer.

That said, sloppy work on the quotes, but headlines are written by editors, not the reporters. It's more in the realm of typo than deliberate obfuscation as was implied.

I have to say that I think this fits the profile of a domestic anti-government group more than anything else. The ZOG types believe Jews control the government and media. So do Arabs, which explains part of the common cause. This wouldn't be the first time they were accused of working together; one thread of the McVeigh conspiracy theories suggests that the truck bomb resembled Islamic fundamentalists' because they actually trained him, allegedly via the mysterious Christian cult known as The Order. (Some other conspiracy theories say that The Order was infiltrated by the FBI and McVeigh was unknowingly an Oswald-esque patsy recruited to achieve an American Reichstag, so that the gov't would have an excuse to crack down on Real Americans.) One of the blowback effects of Ruby Ridge/Waco/OKC is that there's a lot of virulent anti-gov't rhetoric out there now that isn't explicitly connected with the neo-Nazi or Christian right movement, but most of those people are ultimately going to be the types to rally behind a Republican president and against an Arab external threat. So, again, the hardcore extremists are the ones left over, and the Guardian was probably more or less accurate in using that term.

So, there's a lot of nasty tripwire stuff here, but I would say it's not surprising that the Guardian reports it more explicitly than the US press has so far.
posted by dhartung at 9:59 PM on October 29, 2001

A great number of reports here in the UK have been suggesting that the anthrax attacks are the work of American right-wing groups (which could be anti-Zionists, anti-abortionists, militias...take your pick). Of course none of us knows for sure but my gut feeling tells me that indeed it's not bin Laden.
posted by skylar at 1:41 AM on October 30, 2001

Info on quotation marks ... covers so-called usage, and also identif[ing] words and phrases that are not themselves quotes but to which you wish to draw attention as lexical items.

However, it looks to me as if the guardian is actually using them to denote a quotation in this case. FWIW the single apostrophe after attacks probably denotes the abuse of my grandma constituted by the missing word "are", although it's a bit contrived.

Getting back to the meat of the discussion, is it clear that all the letters came from the same source, or even the same organisation? The different "grades" of anthrax would seem to support such a theory.
posted by walrus at 4:30 AM on October 30, 2001

That should be identify[ing], of course.
posted by walrus at 4:31 AM on October 30, 2001

However, it looks to me as if the guardian is actually using them to denote a quotation in this case.

On the site, it reads like scare quotes. However, the headline in the print edition (page 2, if anyone's interested) is `Neo-Nazis may have sent anthrax' says CIA: which comes across as a direct quotation, but is more ambivalent about the briefings. So blame bad sub-editing on the site, not atrocious reporting by the paper.

And yes, I think it's right-wing nutjobs, which counts as Neo-Nazi in the UK.
posted by holgate at 4:54 AM on October 30, 2001

Hmm ... just to flog a dead horse while it's down, I think if they'd put them round "Neo-Nazi" it would have been scare quotes. I read it as a so-says, not a so-called.

Poor choice of headline, anyway. I like the print version more.
posted by walrus at 5:05 AM on October 30, 2001

I am disappointed at the Guardian, too. I think they're generally a good publication.

This article is representative of some of the rubbish published under the guise of news. I think part of the problem with reporting lately is in the headlines, which I can only imagine are chosen mostly for maximum effect rather than truthfulness. I know they put single quotes around 'work of neo-Nazis', but the overall effect of the headline is too specific. A more accurate (but, of course, less flashy, more boring) headline would have been 'Neo-Nazis focus of current anthrax investigation' or something like that.

Even then, why write a whole article based on speculation. That's most of what I see published now, pure speculation. Where's bin Laden, what will happen with Afghanistan, what are the the US/UK planning to do, who is behind the anthrax deal... On and on. I am not familar with reporting from before the 70s; was the news always so full of speculation? Speculation belongs on the op/ed pages.
posted by mmarcos at 5:27 AM on October 30, 2001

The Observer has always been more sensationalist and reactionary than its daily companion, The Guardian. This is probably part a throw-back to the days when it was a separately owned paper and part because people expect that more of a Sunday paper - particularly given that its biggest competition is The Sunday Times, which is pretty much a broadsheet tabloid.
posted by kerplunk at 5:42 AM on October 30, 2001

mmarcos: one problem you might consider is that print headlines don't necessarily work well on the web, particularly if they're to be used as link references as part of a CMS. My friends at BBC News Online had to remind their journalists to come up with headlines that would suit a news ticker, a search engine, a syndicated link on Yahoo. And without sounding snobby, web sub-editors aren't always as good as their print brethren.
posted by holgate at 7:01 AM on October 30, 2001

holgate, that's a good point when referring to listing/RSS/syndication. But the article page has no such restrictions. The Guardian looks like they use Vignette and the templating allows them to produce short and long headlines where necessary.
posted by mmarcos at 8:13 AM on October 30, 2001

« Older The Idea Line   |   Two weeks late, but congratulations, Greg! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments