December 2, 2007

Warning: Temperatures Dropping. It Could Get Cold

An article in Sunday's Star Tribune talks about the ramifications of Vladimir Putin, Russian President's plans for his post-presidential career. The article is clearly written with the intent of making the reader think back to Cold War tensions with Soviet Russia. It mentions Stalin several times, and describes Putin's options of post-career with negative connotations. The article says that even after Putin's second term is up, he will likely still remain in some form of power, either as a prime minister, a "national leader", or become a "ruling party strongman in the mold of Josef Stalin." The latter half of the article talks about how much Putin has done, or at least claimed to do, for Russia. Interestingly, in the layout of page A6, the Putin article is sandwiched between one about Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, which talks about a vote being put forth that could, among other things, make Venezuela officially a socialist country, and an article about Iran's nuclear program. This page's layout seems tailored to produce the maximum amount of worry. Iran's nuclear program raises concern for nuclear terrorists. The Putin article suggests a return to the days of one-party communism, and the Chavez article suggests a socialist Latin America and Caribbean. Certainly, the editors of the Star Tribune wouldn't want its readership to worry too much, would they?

November 18, 2007

Legends of the Hidden Costs

In Tuesday's Star Trib, Josh White of the Washington Post revealed the estimates of the real cost of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This refers to not only the cost of weapons, etc, but things like higher oil prices, paying medical and rehabilitation care for wounded vets, and paying interest on loans. The first half of the article is the gist of the report, while the second half is the views of people who disagree, like a member of previous president's National Security Council, Robert Hormats. He says that the price of the current wars is still less than half the cost of WWII. Hormats has issues with some of the estimates the government report made, like "it would be hard to show that the Iraq war has caused oil prices to skyrocket or oil producers in the Mideast to falter." The article closes with comments by Hormats about the economic differences between America at the time of WWII and today.

November 11, 2007

He's Being so Nice. Are there Germans Coming?

The French people call their president, "Sarko the American". According to a Wednesday Nov. 7 article in the Star Tribune, President Sarkozy has been trying to mend relations with Bush after the diplomatic battles between Bush and previous French president Chirac. The tone of this article is vaguely mocking towards Sarkozy. The article, which was made by the Associated Press, is light on the details of why exactly Sarkozy is in America, beyond the fact that he was going to address Congress.

November 1, 2007

New Comic Book to Raise "Visibility" of Arab and Islamic Culture. And There's Only One Burqa-clad Character! What Progress!

In the annals of modern comic books, Muslim characters have either been terrorists, or the "not-all-Arabs-are-terrorists" character that tried to get people to think beyond stereotypes. Almost always, they have held secondary roles in the books. But now, a comic book by a Kuwaiti company that translates mainstream comics into Middle East languages is turning this paradigm around. This article from the Thursday Nov. 1 Star Tribune talks about "The 99". Not all the characters are Islamic, but the back story is based in Islamic history, albeit a supernatural take on it. According to the creators, the comic will combine the American solo super hero book and the Japanese super hero team book. To me, this concept reads like the TV show Heroes, but based in the Middle East instead of New York City. This article only quotes people from the company that is making the book, and those who support it. A comment or two from somebody against the idea would have made the article more balanced.

October 28, 2007

They Started the Party Before Everyone Got There

While the outrage over the genocide in Darfur hasn't waned, the news coverage has. Now, as peace talks that might end the genocide begin, coverage has been stirred up. Unfortunately, the news is that the talks might fail if factions boycotting the talks decide not to attend. The current talks are expected to do no better than last year's talks in Nigeria, which resulted in only one faction becoming peaceful. The article never tells exactly why the rebel leaders won't attend the talks, but it says that the talks are being held in Sirte, the hometown of Libya's leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Perhaps they don't want to leave Darfur for Libya. The audience isn't told why, just that they're boycotting the talks. The article doesn't focus on the fact that there are talks starting, but instead talks about the rebel leaders boycotting them.

October 21, 2007

Construction Flaws Exposed by Explosion Stall Completion of US Embassy in Iraq

Mortar fire damaged the new U.S. Embassy under construction in Iraq has uncovered other flaws and mismanagement in the deal. According to this article, from the Friday Oct. 19 Star Tribune talks about the fact that the embassy walls were designed to resist the kind of explosive force the mortar shell delivered, but failed to, and several other problems with the design and the company building it. Apparently, the building's electrical system, the fire suppression system, and other things have gone wrong with the building, and the contractors, First Kuwaiti, were the only ones who were given a bid for the job. Despite all these negatives, the article is reasonably balanced.

October 14, 2007

More Mercenary Trouble in Iraq, But This Time it's Not Blackwater

The media's discoveries about Blackwater USA have resulted in more mercenary killings being uncovered. In Wednesday's Star Tribune, this article about Unity Resources Group, an Australian security company, told about how security forces opened fire on a white sedan, which was being used as an unofficial taxi by a Iraqi Christian woman, that drifted too close to a convoy. The first half of this article, which was made by the AP, talks about the event itself, while the second half talks about the rising amount of outrage among the Iraqi people. The article gives statements by a Unity spokesman, who expresses his sympathy and regret about the events, which gives the article some balance. It's fairly clear that the author, Kim Gamel believes that Unity is in the wrong, which is probably accurate.
I notice that nowhere in these articles that attack the mercenary groups is it ever discussed the successes of these groups. I realize that it is hard to tell if the people they gun down are actually threats or not after they're dead, but they have to have done something right, right?

October 7, 2007

The Faces of the Regime

A feature article printed in the October 1 print edition of the Star Tribune talks about the men who run the government junta in Myanmar. It describes them as slightly deranged megalomaniacs who think they are the only ones who can run the Myanmar. The article interprets the thoughts and actions of the generals.

Michael Casey, the author of this article, uses many scholarly sources. The first, Mary Callahan, is described as a "Myanmar expert" from the University of Washington. He seems to have used some sort of official report on the actions of the police and protesters. He quotes an official in the Human Rights Watch in Thailand, and a retired UN ambassador to Myanmar who had personal contact with the ruler of the government. He also paraphrases "analysts" but doesn't say who these are, or which organization they analyze for. He quotes an anonymous source, which is usually frowned upon. Casey also prints rumors, which are sort of the anti-news. Of course, this is an AP-generated story, so a few biases, mistakes, and general randomness is to be expected.

September 30, 2007

The Battle Between Political Power and Moral Authority

In Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, the religious caste of Buddhist monks used to be what gave the military junta it's moral legitimacy. However, recently, the monks have been rebelling against the military regime. The current government was put into place by students in 1988. Now, those students have grown up and entered the work force, many of them joining the monks or the military.
Civil unrest started in August when fuel prices went up. A few students-turned-activists protested, but were arrested or forced into hiding. The real trouble started when "security officers" beat monks at a confrontation in early September. This conflict has exploded into the whole monk vs military conflict.
This article, from the New York Times, presents the situation fairly well. It provides excellent background information about the history of , but paints the military regime, perhaps rightly, as an evil, intimidating, and unpopular. Other sources, including the AP, other articles from the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune all denounce the military leadership of Myanmar, making this imbalance towards the side of the monks universal.

September 21, 2007

Private Security (Read as Mercenaries) Taking Heat From Iraqi Gov't

Blackwater USA has been taking a lot of fire in the press lately. This article from Wednesday's print edition of the Star Tribune discusses the allegations leveled against the "private security" firm recently by the Iraqi government. Those allegations are discussed more fully, as well as the Iraqi government's investigation here, in an article from the New York Times posted on the Pioneer Press website. The lead from the Star Tribune is a standard AP direct lead, aimed at telling the reader what happened as quickly as possible. The article takes the side of the Iraqi government; Blackwater USA are villains who kill Iraqi civilians unprovoked. There are no statements in the article from anyone in the Blackwater organization, which serves to unbalance the article. The authors, Robert H. Reid and Matthew Lee, of the Associated Press, assume the reader agrees that Blackwater USA fired upon the civilians without reasonable cause. This type of assumption seems to be fairly prevalent in AP articles.

September 16, 2007

Bad Luck for Tourists in Mexico Results in Death for Seventeen

According to the Sunday Print edition of the Star Tribune, seventeen passengers traveling on a bus from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara died on Saturday due to the bus going over a mountain road. The article discusses this bus crash in a cold, clinical manner. Strangely, the article never mentions what caused the accident and that question doesn't come up. The writer, unnamed due to the story coming from the Associated Press, spends a good deal of space in the latter half of the article telling the audience the immigration status of the Hispanic passengers killed and injured in the crash. The absence and presence of these bits of information cause the article to seem unbalanced, more concerned with tying the story in to immigration controversy than in informing the readers.

The lead of the story, however, is an excellent one. I will reproduce it here: "MEXICO CITY- A bus carrying tourists including passengers of a flight from Phoenix crashed in western Mexico on Saturday, killing at least 17 people, authorities said." It answers the crucial "W" questions. Who? Tourists from Phoenix; Where? western Mexico; What? the bus crashed, killing 17; When? Saturday. It is a good example of a direct lead, as discussed in class. The information given in the lead hooked me into reading the rest of the article, which is what good leads are supposed to do.

September 9, 2007

What Osama bin Laden's Been Up To

According to Sunday's Pioneer Press, Osama bin Laden has not been hiding in caves on dialysis for the past six years as we had previously been told. The article, written by Tom Lasseter and Jonathan S. Landay, reveals that bin Laden has established a network of friendly villages in hard terrain. The tone of the piece is grim, but somehow not surprised. The way they write it, the story is almost a treatment for a Tom Clancy techno-thriller. The article quotes a number of US officials, but keeps several of them anonymous, which seems to go against the official AP style. The article conflicts with a recent Star Tribune article from September 10 that said Osama bin Laden was "virtually impotent". Clearly, there is dissent over the threat bin Laden places on the world.