I’m not a journalist, nor did I ever have much interest in it save for lack of other ideas during career days in junior high. Still, I did go to university (Sociology degree, btw) and can be something of a critical thinker when I feel like it, so sometimes I like to pick on news sources and look at how they deliver information to the public.
I’m comparing a couple articles about a court case in Brisbane, Australia. I’ll start with The Brisbane Times whose headline was noticeable enough: ‘Satanic’ charges dismissed.
The article concerns itself entirely with the result of court proceedings where four people were accused of desecrating 82 graves at an historic cemetery.
The court heard one of the group bragged about inverting crucifixes at the cemetery because it “had meaning to Satanists”.
But following evidence from several witnesses at a committal hearing yesterday, lawyers for the four accused today argued their clients had no case to answer.
Lawyers Jann Taylor, for Ms Wilson and Mr Bell, and Debra Wardle, for Mr Smallbon, told the court the element of unlawfulness could not be proved by the Crown.
Laughably, their defense appears to center around the fact that police never contacted the owners of those plots to find out if the group had permission to tear the place up. (Another Brisbane article I found also points to police and investigators who couldn’t say precisely when the damage might have occurred. Some of all of it could have happened up to two weeks before this group was there.)
Ms Nisbett said Ms Wilson had been “quite animated” as she recounted what she had done.
“I said I hoped she hadn’t gone near my family’s graves. My grandmother and my uncle and aunt are buried at the Toowong Cemetery,” she said.
Ms. Nisbett’s testimony is what drives the second article, where she explains what else Wilson, her work colleague, said happened. I definitely like the wording of One India’s headline:
‘Vandal pinned down by Jesus Tombstone Down Under.’
The federal public servant said Ms Wilson had told her of a bizarre incident involving a tombstone.
“(Wilson said) ‘Jesus smashed Shane’. (She said) the tombstone moved a significant distance, hit Shane and pinned him on the legs,” Nisbett said.
Bell screamed and passed out from the pain, and the three others had to move the tombstone off his legs, the court heard.
Now, if you just read Brisbane’s version, you can gripe about how dumb the court system is since it has let this group get away with destruction of property. The Brisbane article only glosses over this tombstone story, because it’s more intent on providing a decent rundown of what all led up to the case against these people. Reading One India’s coverage, we’re led to think that God may have exacted some very specific revenge on one of the vandals. Is that true? Pretty damned unlikely. I’d believe Wilson’s ghost did it first.
The only value of the Jesus tombstone story is to explain how Bell’s leg got injured, which is what helped police pick him as a suspect. Well, that and the gravestone chunk he took home with him. He wound up pleading guilty to possessing “tainted property” because of it.
To sum up, I think the need to generate clicks on a story means writers or editors or whoever’s in charge of that stuff have to take the sensational angle more often than not. But you don’t get well rounded stories that way. And maybe they don’t care; they just want the clicks. Why worry about what a gullible audience will take from it? Caveat emtor and all that. Are journalists like this at all liable for leading their readers to goofy conclusions? Judging by what else I’ve read in the past, I guess not.