Sunday, June 11, 2006

BBC 2, NY Times 0

Both the BBC and the NY Times published stories concerning three suicides on June 10 at the Guantanamo detention camp. Here are the headlines (the BBC ran two separate stories):

NY Times: 3 Prisoners Commit Suicide at Guantanamo

BBC: Guantanamo suicides 'acts of war'

BBC: Guantanamo suicides a 'PR move'

Journalism doesn't have too many universal rules, but one is that 'man bites dog' is bigger news than 'dog bites man,' since the former happens rarely while the latter is far from unusual.

So which seems more newsworthy to you - the suicides of three more men held in a high security prison with no idea when or if they will be released (regardless of whether they deserve to be there or not), or the fact that Guantanamo's commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, believes that these suicides amount to an act of war?

"I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of warfare waged against us," Harris is quoted as saying.

According to the military, there have been at least 44 suicide attempts at the Guantanamo camp since January 2002 (41 cited in the linked article plus the three recent deaths; there may have been more in between.) It's still news, but it doesn't explain why the Times didn't mention Harris' quote until the sixth paragraph of their story.

Then there's the comment about suicides being a 'good PR move to draw attention,' which came from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy. The BBC wrote an additional story about that comment; as far as I can tell the Times hasn't mentioned it yet.

Maybe this type of coverage from the Times is meant to counter accusations of liberal bias. It certainly isn't doing anything for the Gray Lady's credibility.

Tangentially, I think I'm starting to understand America's problem in the war on terror: the military thinks that killing yourself is an act of war, and the diplomats think it's good PR.

That could explain why the administration doesn't understand why more and more people are upset about the death toll: an estimated 40,000 dead Iraqis, 2,416 dead soldiers, and 71 dead journalists (more than in WWII).