While a horrified world watches the images coming out of Kenya in the aftermath of the massacre at a Nairobi mall perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists, another less bloody but just as morally reprehensible atrocity unfolded online: the sickeningly biased coverage of the attack produced by some mainstream media outlets determined to provide cover for the jihadists.
The BBC’s lead story this afternoon was almost a study in journalistic malfeasance: an archetypal example of how left-leaning Western journalists will violate their own consciences — and the basic principles of reporting — in their relentless quest to hide the truth.
Such bias happens every day, and complaints about it happen just as often, but the sheer volume and speed of partisan reporting makes it difficult to highlight a single example. Even so, let’s pause for just a moment and dissect this typical specimen of ideological media spin.
The article under discussion can be found here — at least for now. Since media outlets often delete articles which they later find embarrassing, I can’t guarantee it will be online forever, so to preserve the evidence I took a screenshot, which you can see here.
Sections of the screenshot are pasted in below as illustrations.
How the BBC Intentionally Obfuscates the Facts
In traditional reporting, all the vital information in any news story should be featured right at the beginning, in an article’s three key elements:
- The headline
- The lede
- The nut graf
Everyone knows what a “headline” is, but the other two terms are journalists’ lingo:
The “lede” in any story is generally defined as its first sentence. In a human interest feature story it’s allowable for the lede to be an anecdote or amusing observation — but in a hardcore news article like this the lede is always supposed to summarize the germane facts of the story. (The headline, of course, should be a condensed version of the lede.)
The “nut graf,” which is short for “nutshell paragraph,” is a single paragraph which gives all relevant information in a further elaboration of the lede. As expected, in news reporting the “nut graf” is always supposed to be the first paragraph of any story (although in feature journalism, which is not what we’re discussing here, the nut graf can appear later in the story).
So, what are the essential pieces of information about today’s Kenya incident? Most everyone (including the perpetrators) would agree that:
Islamic fundamentalist terrorists purposely targeted an exclusive mall in Nairobi frequented by non-Muslims in order to massacre infidels.
So: How does the BBC communicate this information to its readers in its headline? Behold:
Right off the bat, even in the headline itself, the BBC commits a litany of egregious and inexcusable journalistic errors.
The first and most obvious blunder is the missing subject. Who did what? Well, according the the BBC, an entity called a “shoot-out” committed mass murder in Nairobi. Note how there are no human actors in the headline. It wasn’t people who killed 11, it was an inanimate and leaderless “shoot-out” that killed 11.
This is a basic grammatical snafu which even freshmen journalism students quickly learn to avoid. But not the BBC, apparently.
On a second, more subtle, level, use of the word “shoot-out” implies that there were two equal combatants involved, and that therefore blame can be spread around to everyone. But as we know, it wasn’t at first a “shoot-out” — it was a group of terrorists massacring unarmed non-Muslims. (Only much later, after police arrived, did it devolve into a shoot-out.)
Since the BBC has been one of the world’s leading media outlets for nearly a century, and in previous generations set the global standard for news-writing guidelines, they have absolutely no excuse for writing a headline like that — they can’t claim “We’re new at this kind of thing” or “We’re just bloggers — cut us some slack.” No. The BBC literally wrote the book on how to write proper headlines. And if they write a poor headline like this, it must be on purpose.