Spot the differences | 12.05.05

One of the Bangkok Post’s many bad habits, which includes misquoting and misreporting, is modifying the headlines of the wire-service articles it publishes for the worse.

The following examples are from yesterday’s issue (May 11, 2005) alone.

The (highly-recommended) New York Times article by Kate Zernike about the tangled romantic relationship between three US soldiers before, during, and after their notorious assignment was originally headlined:

Behind Failed Abu Ghraib Plea, a Tangle of Bonds and Betrayals

The Bangkok Post’s turned that to:

Abu Ghraib: A triangle of intrigue
Tense situations call for sensible heads, something tellingly missing at the Baghdad prison administered by the US

So the melodrama involving three soldiers is made to appear like an indictment against the entire prison (and even the US administration), which the revised headline says is tellingly devoid of sensible heads in tense situations. Telling of what? And what tense situations? Ask the Bangkok Post editor because you won’t find the answers in the actual article.

Right next to that story (the Bangkok Post has a penchant for putting regular New York Times stories on its “Opinion & Analysis” pages) is a Bob Herbert op-ed about how everything about the Iraq War is wrong beyond redemption. Its headline in the New York Times:

Stranger than fiction

Versus in the Bangkok Post:

Bush could have saved a lot of people of a lot of grief

What is that? The original headline might not have been very inspired to begin with, but the Post made it downright inane.

More often, however, the Post does the opposite: sensationalize. A Reuters story about the trip to Beijing by James Soong, the leader of Taiwan’s People First Party carries this headline before the Bangkok Post makeover:

Taiwan opposition leader in Beijing for talks

And after:

Visit turns up heat on Chen to mend fences

Other times, the Post doesn’t change a headline all that much: a pair of scare quotes suffice. Here’s the original headline of an AFP article about President Bush’s visit to Georgia:

Bush gets rock star welcome from ecstatic crowds in Georgia

And the Post’s version:

‘Rock star’ ovation for Bush
Sea of flags greets US president in Georgia

Please note that nobody says anything about “rock star” in the article. It’s not a quotation, but rather the reporter’s own characterization of the event. To put a scare quote around it is to give the absurd impression that this news report doesn’t trust itself.

Same treatment for this Reuters report on the new agreement between Russia and the EU. Before:

Russia and EU agree on breakthrough deal

And after:

Russia, EU ink ‘breakthrough’ pact

Oh well, you say. A bit of cynicism here, a touch of arrogance there, doesn’t that go with a journalist’s job? You should be aware of what that slippery slope can lead to. For months in 2004, the Bangkok Post was busy “correcting” the wire reports so that Moqtada al-Sadr was known to its readers as “Ayatollah al-Sadr”.

update New low for the Post’s tinkering.

15:33 ▪ media

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