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How a Public Editor Should Sound

Rereading this, I suppose the Chicago Tribune's Timothy J. McNulty isn't saying anything all that much different from what the NYT and WaPo "public editors" do: this shit is hard, we piss people off. But McN manages to do it without the smarmy whining tone somehow. And he even provides some data to back up his argument:

A science report in The Washington Post two weeks ago noted that partisans in a conflict "don't just arrive at different conclusions; they see entirely different worlds."

Researchers took television news clips from the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and showed them to 144 people, split between pro-Arab and pro-Israel supporters.

The pro-Arab viewers heard 42 references they thought were favorable to Israel and 26 that were unfavorable. The pro-Israel viewers, looking at the same video, noted only 16 references favorable to Israel and 57 that they saw as negative.

Post reporter Shankar Vedantam wrote that researchers have called the phenomenon "hostile media effect" to describe how partisans perceive media reports as biased against their side. The more knowledgable about the subject, the more they see bias.

Now he comes to at least the edge of the most important aspect of things: truth vs. "truthiness." And he dares to dis on "balance":

Trying to achieve balance, of course, is not a simple 50-50 equation. And it is a cop-out to worry about criticism and attempt to present everything as equal or "morally equivalent."

Finally he brings into the "MSM" the latest effort by the Dan Rather Fighting Kommandos of the right whackoblogs to "expose" the Qana massacre as "not so bad after all, and really just an attempt to make Israel look bad".

How do you measure suffering? Should it be by the numbers of civilians killed or wounded? Should warring parties be viewed as winning or losing by the numbers of rockets launched or bombs dropped?

There are many facts in the Middle East. But the hatred and suspicion is so ingrained that any report is viewed through a prism of: "Does it provide any comfort to my enemy?" And if the answer is yes, then the report and the facts it uses must be wrong.

Oh, and does anybody else find it amusing that Human Rights Watch, derided by the righties as a bleeding-heart-liberal-terrorist-loving-bunch-o-hippies most of the time, is suddenly unquestionably authoritative when they rachet the number of dead at Qana downwards? Hey, it wasn't 50- or 60-some dead, half of them children! It was only 20-some dead! That makes it okay! Kwitcherwhinin'!

McN, happily, is having none of this:

In the last week, some commentators have suggested that the Qana bombing was staged, something that neither the Israeli government nor any other reputable witness has claimed.

Human Rights Watch, an organization that has criticized both Israel and Hezbollah for indiscriminate targeting of civilian areas, did its own report on the Qana bombing and suggested the number of dead is less than first reported. No one has, or I suspect ever will, come up with a definitive number. The incident will join thousands of others in the mythology of both sides.

Everybody except the gravediggers, I guess. Amazing how nobody ever interviews them for questions of this type.

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