December 15, 2004

Reuters' Mid-East Bizarre Bazaar Still Open for Business

Call me irresponsible but more and more I think that the single job for a writer that would most certainly condemn you to hell in this life and the next has to be reporting for Reuters. Impervious to sense and humanity, this "Service" continues to pump out what passes for "reportage" using editorial rules and filters from somewhere in "the Stone Age". I use that term advisedly.

Here's a full report that just moved over the wires from that bastion of religious peace, harmony and toleration, Iran.

Iranian Adulteress Faces Noose or Stoning-Official

Dec 18, 2004 -- TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian official said on Saturday he was waiting for orders on whether to stone or hang a woman convicted of adultery, the latest in a chain of death sentences passed against women for "fornication."

The official from Iran's conservative judiciary said Hajieh Esmailvand's prison sentence, that began in January 2000, would end in less than a month -- a jail term in the northern city of Jolfa that was always intended as a precursor to execution.

"Her (death) sentence is approved by the Supreme Court, but there are no orders to carry out the sentence. We do not yet know if it is by stoning or hanging," he told Reuters.

Hanging is the most usual death penalty in Iran but some adulterers have been stoned.

Stoning has sparked scathing international criticism, with victims being buried up to their midriffs and then pelted to death with medium-size stones that should not be so large as to kill instantly.

That's it. Whole item. Starts well with a terse factual headline. Goes on in that vein with fact, fact, identified quote, fact ... and then the end. Snip.

Well, it is nice, I suppose, to know that "international criticism" of stoning has been scathing (Although we presume that some countries in love with Iran have been less scathing than others.). But the story does leave you wondering just what that "criticism" might be. Depth to which victim is buried? Size of stones used? Number of stoners invited to the festive moment?

Also left out is the mention of any possible "international criticism" of the charming practice hanging women for "fornication." Are we to assume that stoning is so evil that the world just gives Iran a pass on the noose?

The more that you look at this example of the Reuter's Way of Journalism, the more you see the large empty hole in the middle. The place where ethics and morality should be.

Posted by Vanderleun at December 15, 2004 11:00 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Seeing as to how we incessantly roast American reportage for injecting the leftwing version of ethics and morality into straight news, to see a wire service leaving E&M out should be hailed as objective reporting and welcomed. Unless you're saying the only good reporting is reporting that serves up your particular version of E&M. Have I got it right?

Posted by: The Owner's Manual at December 18, 2004 11:52 AM

No, I have to say you've got it wrong. Having been an editor for many years I have first-hand knowledge of the techniques of shaping stories and coverage. Some things have to do with "vocabulary," other things have to do with knowing "which" writer to assign to which story, still other things have to do with "cutting and trimming" -- which in this case is what is operating. And it is not only what you cut in the story, but when you cut the story.

More broadly, there's the question of values and point of view being brought to the story and being pushed out by the news organization. Reuters is famous for the overt and the covert point of view and has come by this reputation through years of long, hard, applied work.

Even more toward the deeper implication. It would seem that you hold, perhaps just for argument, that there are different, equally valid, state of ethics and morality -- that the ethics and morality of hanging and stoning women for fornication is just as good, relatively speaking, as not doing so. I reject the notion that ethics and morals are relative. It is, I am aware, seen as proof that the person who holds that view is modern and progressive, but I find it to be evidence of a retrograde system of thought.

But that's just me.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at December 18, 2004 12:12 PM

I imagine that looking back through history at journalistic styles would prove Gerard correct.

I'm no expert, but I can't imagine a story from the WW II era describing a Nazi death camp in cold, factual terms. Unless it was Nazi propaganda.

Today's journalists take pride in such things. What a waste of oxygen.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at December 18, 2004 2:06 PM

Let's make it interesting...suppose this candidate for stoning happened to be mentally retarded, and has the capacity of an 8 year old. Would that make any difference in the "matter of fact" reporting of a cultural "activity?"

I refer you to this:

Girl With Mental Age of Eight Given Death Sentence

Posted by: IR at December 18, 2004 3:11 PM

Seeing as to how we incessantly roast American reportage for injecting the leftwing version of ethics and morality into straight news, to see a wire service leaving E&M out should be hailed as objective reporting and welcomed.

To elaborate on Mr. Van der Leun's remarks, Reuters' objectivity is not applied equally across the spectrum of its work. That application consciously depends on the subject being reported.

Posted by: P.A. Breault at December 18, 2004 6:59 PM

Owner's Manual called it correctly.

Posted by: David Sucher at December 19, 2004 6:42 AM