Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Suspect reporting

Charles Lipson, among others, has noticed something which, I have to admit, slipped by me during the course of the Bombay terrorist siege.

The Daily Mail's picture is a frontal photograph. The terrorist is gripping the assault rifle with two hands, one of which is on the trigger. The rifle is pointed horizontally, toward anyone walking near the gunman. The newspaper ran this anodyne caption: "A suspected gunman walks outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai on Wednesday night"

As Lipson points out, the caption is absurd. There is no suspicion that this was a gunman - that was obvious - but such is our craven fear of upsetting the sensibilities of God knows who and such is our deference to the belief that we have to treat terrorists as criminals rather than the illegal war combatants they actually are that our news outlets just can not bring themselves to say it.

Once upon a time that Mail caption would have been something like "One of the murderous Moslem terrorists responsible for the Bombay bloodbath". Now they can only call him a "suspected gunman" who "walks outside". What do they think might have happened? Do they think he was just out for an afternoon stroll and mistook an automatic rifle for an umbrella? "Sorry officer, my wife will insist on leaving the AK47 in the umbrella stand by the front door".

Lipson wonders how they would have captioned photographs from WW2 is we had news reporting then as we do now. Worse still - what if we responded to the threat from Nazi Germany the way we do to Moslem terrorism.

"Control, this is Chain Home - we have fifty plus suspected bandits heading for London. Advise please"
"Roger that, Chain Home.We will consult with lawyers and try to get an injunction to prevent them dropping their bombs within fifty miles of the city. We'll have an answer for you in a month or two. In the meantime do not do anything to offend them. Remember, they haven't actually committed any crime yet".

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