Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Is HuffPo the new Faux News? Should we ask AOLianna Huffington?

Arriana Huffington in 2003: These days, her news image is tarnished. (Wiki commons)
If a news outlet offers a forum for comments, does it have a responsibility to post those that criticize that forum and/or its editors?

Yesterday, Huffington Post picked up a Reuters story about guns on campus in Texas. In the article, reference was made to the Texas shootings of more than four decades ago in which thirteen people were killed. What the Texas legislature is considering is a disheartening turn of events, but also disheartening is the mindlessly fundamentalist approach the writer took to telling the story. This approach is apparently tacitly supported by the editorial policies of Reuters and possibly Huffington Post, as well, which chose not to post comments critical of the bias in the report.

Subtle, but harmful bias
In noting the Texas legislature’s possible intent to allow concealed weapons on campus, the Reuters article reported that the discussion comes “nearly 45 years after Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the UT Tower and fatally shot 13 people and an unborn child.”

No, Charles Whitman shot thirteen people including a pregnant woman. He did not shoot an “unborn child” unless that unborn child was strolling across campus trying to bum a smoke. Aside from the fundamentalist bias inherent in that sentence, it is completely illogical. An unborn child is not, by definition, a person who can be shot independent of  its host, its mother. Whitman probably did not, from his heights, say to himself, “Ooh, there’s a woman who has an unborn child within her. I think I’ll shoot them both,” and then aim a bullet at the mother’s head and the fetus. He may well have hit the fetus, but it was the womanthe personwhom he sought to kill. The fetus was, if you will, collateral damage.

Nor is there anything inherently more evil about killing a woman carrying a fetus than in killing a woman not carrying a fetus. Because the mother’s body is integral to the existence of the fetusuntil delivery, with the umbilical cord severed and tiedthe murder of the pregnant woman was legally one killing. One. The mother. The woman. One woman.

And that is how the law regards it. In order to be purposely killed by gunfire―by a sniper or a whackjob student on a mindless rampagea person must be exactly that, a person, a being with an independent life, a name, a presence on the planet not dependent upon another being’s circulatory system.

Muddying otherwise clear waters
The debate about when, spiritually, a fetus becomes a person who can be murdered by medical procedures carried out upon the mother’s body need not enter into a discussion of who Charles Whitman killed. He killed thirteen people, period. One of them was pregnant. Whitman did not kill thirteen people, one of whom had a great aperture in her belly through which a tiny person escaped from time to time and went on his/her merry way, sitting under a spreading chestnut tree on campus and discussing great books or last night’s varmint huntin’ party and beer-guzzlin’ soiree. (This being about Texas, the latter is more believable, if any of it is.) It that were true, he would simply have killed fourteen people.

Reuters (or Huffington Post; it is impossible to know if the article ran as submitted or if HuffPo edited it) chose to put a fundamentalist spin on a straight report about a modern-day quandary. (Well, it’s only a quandary in Texas; most of the rest of us know it’s a crappy idea to allow concealed weapons on campus.) By doing so, they tarnished their image. They have revealed themselves as partisan and untrustworthy. 

It would do no harm to the anti-choice crowd to have stated the legal factsWhitman killed 13 peoplenor would it be a boon. It would do no harm to the pro-choice crowd to say that he killed thirteen people, one of whom was pregnant, nor would it be a boon.  Using either a simple thirteen people, or even the somewhat more yellow phrase “thirteen people, one of whom was pregnant” does not polemicize the situation…a situation on which Case Closed was written 45 years ago, when Whitman was killed by a police bullet after killing thirteen people. Not fourteen. Not thirteen and a fetus.

CORRECTION: Other sources contend Whitman killed fifteen people and a fetus, and one of those sources calls it an unborn child. The mother lived. So it was possible for Reuters/HuffPo to say that Whitman killed 13 people (though apparently it should have been 15) and a fetus. But they have still polemicized the issue by failing to note that while the fetus was destroyed (and I can find no information on whether it might have been viable on its own, or not), the mother survived. Clarification, in order not to obfuscate, is essential in a news report, and Reuters/HuffPo failed miserably at that, with the added fillip that they polemicized an issue that might still--regardless of the status of a pregnancy--have been reported straight and honestly.

Both by their sins of omission and commision, Reuters/HuffPo has needlessly polemicized an article that purported to be about the wisdom of allowing concealed weapons on campus. It has done itself/themselves and their readers a disservice. It has made the anti-choice people seem sneaky; it has dragged the pro-choice people into a superfluous discussion that need not ever have occurred, at least not based on this report.

Reuters/HuffPo (or is it AOL?) has now joined the ranks of the dishonest and discredited, the mindless polemicists of a Faux News stripe, only worse. Faux News is so viciously rightwing no one can mistake its intent; until now, HuffPo has been less rabid, although clearly slightly liberal. Has it altered its stance? Is there now no mainstream internet alternative to the ravings of the bagger/birther crowd?

I’d say time will tell, if HuffPo moderators had let the critical comments appear.

As it stands, HuffPo is now on my personal watch list, and henceforth I will read it with a critical eye and a fine-tooth comb, exposing as many of its manipulative, partisan so-called news reports as I can.