Time to Choose Up Sides

Yesterday I read about 15 British sailors who were taken and are being detained in Iran under an accusation that they were operating in Iranian territory. According to the British they were searching for smugglers off Iraq’s coast. This morning I read this AP/Herald headline: (3/27/07- This link now goes to a more tame version of the same story)

Iran: UK Troops Illegally Entered Waters

I read the headline thinking with all the tension in the area, how dumb it was for these guys to not keep track of their position and let themselves get into Iranian waters. So I read the article to find out.

Iran’s semiofficial news agency, Fars, reported that the 15 Britons have been transferred to the capital Tehran “to explain their aggressive action.”

Navigational equipment on the seized British boats “show that they (sailors) were aware that they were operating in Iranian waters and Iranian border gourds fulfilled their responsibility,”

Well they had navigation equipment as one would assume and Iran is saying that the British were aware they were in Iranian waters. But wait, what’s this:

Britain’s Defense Ministry said the Royal Navy personnel were in Iraqi territorial waters when they were seized. Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain also said it was “very clear” they were in Iraqi waters.

OK, now this looks more like the classic scenario. It seemed a bit odd that the British had just blown it and were admittedly in Iranian waters. It looks like the jury is still out on the incidents actual location. But regardless of which side is right or wrong this is a classic case of AP choosing sides.

British say they weren’t in Iranian waters; Iranians say they were; and AP backs the Iranian position with an article headline “UK Troops Illegally Entered Waters.” Now all the readers who just skimmed the headlines have taken home the message that British troops entered Iranian waters illegally. I was duped also but was lucky enough this time that I had the time to read the full article and not just the headline. The AP could have used wording like “accused” or “position in dispute” but the AP chose to be the judge. I pray that Iran will not be the jury and executioner.

I also hold the Herald responsible for their choice to run the story with this headline. They needed to either change the headline, choose a different version of the story or drop the story. Anything would have been preferable to the headline that is just a lie at this point.

(3/27/07) I used the new online Ask the Editor Feature at the Herald online to ask Julie Shirley what the thought process was behind story & headline choice. It is an involved process for sure, but she explained it pretty clearly. Bottom line in this case was that she didn’t find the headline misleading while I did. Here is a link to the explanation. I’m not sure it will be there after today though?

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2 Responses to “Time to Choose Up Sides”

  1. Lamp Store says:

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  2. Mark says:

    Having been in the media, almost all the journalistic malpractice here rests with the Herald. The Herald news editor wrote the headline, not A-P.

    My problem with the copy is the 2nd graph…

    Navigational equipment on the seized British boats “show that they (sailors) were aware that they were operating in Iranian waters and Iranian border gourds fulfilled their responsibility,”

    … This should have been attributed to an Iranian official just as the writer did for the Brit’s claim that the boat was in Iraqi waters. That would have made the story more of a one-side-says-this-the-other-side-says that.

    The problem blaming the A-P here is that the Herald’s editors could have re-wrote the Iraqi graph to take out the attribution. It’s probably unlikely … but you never know with this generation of “communications” graduates.

    I guess my point is that once A-P transmits its articles, it loses control over the copy and headlines.

    To verify A-P you have to find the same story at another news site and compare the text.

    Bottom line, though, you are right that this article shows a definite anti-American bias.