Weasel Words and Critical Thinking Skills

These two paragraphs from Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt’s article in the New York Times about U.S. troops leaving Iraq is a perfect example of hidden bias — hidden, that is, to anyone who does not apply critical thinking skills to their news reading, which I believe is most people:

This month, American officials pressed the Iraqi leadership to meet again at President Talabani’s compound to discuss the issue. This time the Americans asked them to take a stand on the question of immunity for troops, hoping to remove what had always been the most difficult hurdle. But they misread Iraqi politics and the Iraqi public. Still burdened by the traumas of this and previous wars, and having watched the revolutions sweeping their region, the Iraqis were unwilling to accept anything that infringed on their sovereignty.

Acutely aware of that sentiment, the Iraqi leadership quickly said publicly that they would not support legal protections for any American troops. Some American officials have privately said that pushing for that meeting — in essence forcing the Iraqis to take a public stand on such a controversial matter before working out the politics of presenting it to their constituents and to Parliament — was a severe tactical mistake that ended any possibility of keeping American troops here past December.

The entire article is a classroom handout in slanting a news article toward the official government point of view while appearing to take a “neutral” stance, but these two paragraphs stand out. And within these two paragraphs, the sentence I have bolded is the crucial one. After informing the reader, fairly straightforwardly, in the first paragraph, that (a) the sticking point in the negotiations between Iraqi and U.S. officials was the Iraqis’ refusal to continue granting immunity to U.S. troops; and (b) that the reason Iraqi officials were refusing to grant that immunity was because the Iraqi public was overwhelmingly opposed to doing so, Arango and Schmidt then tell the reader, in the second paragraph, how they are to think about this information — what conclusions they are to draw from it — by conveying the Obama administration’s point of view on the meaning of what happened without applying any sort of critical lens.

The administration’s take on pushing Iraqi leaders to take a stand on the immunity issue is that they (the administration) made a “tactical” error by not giving the al-Maliki government time to put together a public relations campaign that would convince the Iraqi people to drop their opposition to U.S. troops being immunized against injuring or killing Iraqi civilians. Arango and Schmidt present this spin — that the conflict over immunity was and is simply a matter of giving Iraqi officials time to get the “politics” right — as if it were sober, dispassionate analysis, rather than self-serving, callous disregard for the real harm immunizing U.S. troops has done to ordinary Iraqis, and for the legitimacy of the very concept of a policy that removes legal accountability for Americans’ actions in Iraq.


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Filed under Breaking News, Foreign Policy, International, Law, Media, Politics, War

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