Correction: Oregonian Coverage of Omagh Trial

Jon Perr

Back in December, I wrote a piece discussing press coverage of the verdict in the Omagh bombing trial.  (That 1998 blast killed 29 people and injured 370 others in Omagh, Northern Ireland.)  In the post, I contended the Oregonian had introduced anti-abortion rhetoric into its story on Omagh, reporting which was based on a Los Angeles Times wire service piece.  After further correspondence with the paper, it appears that mine was not an accurate depiction of the editorial process at the Oregonian.  The story is more complicated than that.

First, some background.  On December 21, the AP, Reuters and other news outlets reported the acquittal of a suspect in the Omagh bombing that had killed 29.  The Los Angeles Times featured a story by William Graham and Kim Murphy titled "Suspect Acquitted in N. Ireland Bombing," which stated:

The defendant was charged with 29 counts of murder in the 1998 bombing of the shopping district in Omagh that left 29 dead, including a woman pregnant with twins, and 370 injured.

That was not how the same story appeared in the December 21 print edition of the Oregonian.  Now titled "Defendant Acquitted in Blast That Killed 31," the story in the Oregonian read:

The defendant was charged with 29 counts of murder in the 1998 bombing of the shopping district in Omagh that left 31 dead, including unborn twins, and 370 injured.

But according to the Oregonian's public editor, the LA Times wire service (which is separate from the LA Times newspaper) "sent out the story with the wording that appeared in The Oregonian."  Apparently, an editor on the LA Times copy desk later saw the wording in the story and corrected it to reflect the actual facts in the case.  As a result, the Los Angeles Times, its website and RSS feed have the wording that you see there now.

The Oregonian public editor further noted that the term "unborn child/twins" is not the paper's accepted style and that its December 21 headline, while based on the text of the wire service story the Oregonian received, was incorrect.  In today's (January 11) print edition of the paper, the Oregonian ran a correction:

An article and headline Dec. 21 about the acquittal of a man accused of the 1998 bombing in a Northern Ireland shopping district gave an incorrect death toll from the blast. Twenty-nine people died, and 370 were injured.

The Oregonian, like any paper, is ultimately responsible for the syndicated content which appears in its pages.  But based on my correspondence with the Oregonian, my previous assertions that the Oregonian "inserts anti-abortion rhetoric in Omagh bombing story" and "chose to turn the Omagh verdict into anti-abortion propaganda" were neither fair nor accurate.

Comments

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    Wait a sec.

    The Omagh bombing was one of the single most gruesome incidents of the prolonged bloody mess in Northern Ireland, and you're parsing The Oregonian's coverage for alleged anti-abortion rhetoric? Methinks you've sort of lost track of what's important in this particular affair.

  • (Show?)
    Posted by: lin qiao | Jan 11, 2008 4:20:07 PM Wait a sec. The Omagh bombing was one of the single most gruesome incidents of the prolonged bloody mess in Northern Ireland, and you're parsing The Oregonian's coverage for alleged anti-abortion rhetoric? Methinks you've sort of lost track of what's important in this particular affair.

    Agree and disagree. Agree with you that the story about the bombing is a very gruesome and serious story, and on that you are entirely correct. But that is, in a way part of the point Jon Perr was touching on. That said however, it is also worth remembering that while the bombing was/is a serious story and issue, it is rather outside the focus or intent of what this blog (and hence the content posted here) is about.

    That said, I disagree somewhat with your complaint that the author is losing track about what is important (within the context of what the scope and focus of this site is) in that the editorial bias in the wire service wording is a different, though not at all as obvious or pressing a subject, none the less a valid topic. Particularly since this site is not about the political or news events of the the "troubles" or this particularly horrific incident however serious such a topic is. However it does involve itself with the domestic political events and culture, which includes how mass media outlets present and frame language, in the news which more directly relates to the topic of this forum, and so it is relevant and indeed an important one.

    To use a rather different subject to convey what I am talking about, look back at the issue of arming contras during the 80s. Do we call those armed combatant "freedom fighters" or "death squads", "militias", "paramilitary units", "insurgents", "patriots", something else entirely?

    The language does impact and frame issues, debates and how people actually think about things. To discuss and talk about such things, how language is used which can insert (subtly or more in a more crass manner) a ideologically skewed set of frames doesn't mean the topic nor the victims of such horrific events themselves are being disrespected. I posit, as I suspect the author of this thread would agree, it is precisely when the focus is on important and highly charged events like a huge bombing attack, that the type of framing (about a different issue, i.e. counting fetuses being carried by a pregnant woman as people who were killed, i.e. the framing of one ideological view in the abortion debate) being inserted is more insidious since it is subtle, unnoticed and subconscious.

    To bring it full circle, and underscore the point, were this site focused on discussing the issues of Northern Ireland and the British involvement therein, how people frame with language the discussion does inject itself into the discussion in a huge way. Does calling Sinn Féin, a terrorist group, a political group, patriots, freedom fighter, etc. change perceptions of what is being discussed? OUr very language is very much interwoven in a deep and profound way in how people interact, and even think and feel about things.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    It sort of all comes back to that business of "personhood", right? Is a fetus a "person"? For some people that is purely a legal matter: if one says a fetus is a "person", then outlawing abortion follows trivially. That's the heart of the objection to referring to "murdering" a fetus, say, isn't it? For others, deciding about "personhood" is purely an ethical or moral matter: "abortion stills a beating heart" is the bumper-sticker slogan, right? For me, well, I have no pat answers. The fetuses in the murdered woman's womb were alive. A fetus about to be aborted is alive. Whether they are "persons"....you decide. A small suggestion: avoid black and white thinking.

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    Jon, Thanks for the clarification. It is useful to know what the O. actually deserves to be slagged about and what not, and it speaks well of you that you draw attention to their having issued the correction.

    Does the Oregonian really still have a public editor? Or have one again? I had an impression that the position had been ended.

  • Anonymous (unverified)
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    Isn't abortion illegal in Ireland? In the eyes of the Irish, wasn't the death toll 31, not 29? Ah, but wait - wasn't it the Irish authorities who chose to charge him with 29 counts of murder, not 31? Hmmm.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    As my grandfather said in my presence many years ago, "It takes a good man to admit to being wrong."

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Jon I can not belioeve that you wasted typing the first outrageous piece of bs about this, let alone the second non-retraction of your original ridiculous stance.

    Do you sleep better at night "knowing" that the "real" number murdered was 29 rather than 31? Does it make ANY difference? Why require somebody else report to your standards?

    As already pointed out, abortion is not legal in Ireland, so perhaps there the "real" number was 31. Again, reducing terrorist bombings to a quibble about wheter unborn twins should be counted or not is the height of inanity (is that even a word?)

  • Ulster Man (unverified)
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    “Does calling Sinn Féin, a terrorist group, a political group, patriots, freedom fighter, etc. change perceptions of what is being discussed?”

    The political wing of Europe’s leading terrorist group is officially recognised under international law as a terrorist group. And you wondered why people in Europe are not lining up to join in the war on terror. Al Qaeda are freedom fighters and patriots – sounds offensive doesn’t it?

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