For news junkies and the Very Online, one of the most well-traveled news stories over the past couple days has been the story of the “American students who are stranded in Afghanistan.”
The first version I read of the story came from this piece published by The Hill, although it borrows heavily from a piece published in the LA Times and San Diego Union-Tribune the same day.
The key excerpt if you don’t feel like clicking over is here:
Dozens of California students and parents are stranded in Afghanistan after taking a summer trip to the country.
More than 20 students and 16 parents from the Cajon Valley Union School District in El Cajon, Calif., visited Afghanistan on summer vacation. Now they are among thousands of people who are waiting to leave the country amid the chaotic U.S. withdrawal that has caused political unrest across the nation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Cajon Valley Superintendent David Miyashiro alerted school board members on Tuesday that he would be meeting with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to discuss the situation, the Times noted.Source: The Hill
However much of the headline or article you read, you will still arrive at the same two questions that roughly half of America has since yesterday: (1) What the devil were a group of students doing taking a summer trip abroad in Afghanistan, and (2) Why is one of the students’ parents talking about worries that they are missing class?
It’s the funny thing about news. We more or less define it based on the assumption that it tells the truth, and this article does. These students from California absolutely went to Afghanistan over the summer. They are absolutely stranded there. These are facts.
But at some point here, you have to feel like a writer without an axe to grind might have felt inclined to mention that the California students are LITERALLY REFUGEES FROM AFGHANISTAN WHO WENT TO THEIR OLD HOME TO VISIT FRIENDS AND FAMILY. And look, that doesn’t change that they are people just as deserving of our efforts to extract safely as anyone else. It just takes away the single reason the article went viral, that is, that a bunch of kids going to Afghanistan for summer vacation seemed pretty wacky.
The ability to influence our behaviors as information consumers isn’t confined to whether we are explicitly being told how to think about something. Narrative is just as easily communicated through the selective absence of information, through its placement on a page, and through editorial decisions regarding the volume and emphasis of its coverage.
So which explanation for this preposterous framing do you think is true? And remember, you can always pick more than one:
- Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. They just didn’t think about the very obvious omission, or they didn’t do the basic research to inform it.
- They were terrified of getting canceled for maybe implying that refugee status was a relevant detail to the story.
- Clickbait. C’mon.
Join us in the forum which you think it is – or offer another explanation!
— Rusty Guinn | August 26, 2021|