Burying the Lede

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.

Dozens of California students, parents stranded in Afghanistan after summer trip abroad [The Hill]

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:

  1. 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.
  2. They were terrified of getting canceled for maybe implying that refugee status was a relevant detail to the story.
  3. Clickbait. C’mon.

Join us in the forum which you think it is – or offer another explanation!

— Rusty Guinn | August 26, 2021|

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  1. The day I’m willing to read an LA Times piece in good faith is the day that immediately proceeds my lobotomy. Legacy media saw Buzzfeed and Gawker get huge with clickbait and half-assed reporting, so they all followed them into the abyss.

  2. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I shall keep my corresponding opinions about reportage at the San Diego Union-Tribune to myself.

  3. The non-profit I work for here in Houston runs schools in the lowest income zip codes of the metro area and Afghan immigrant kids are part of the student population. Some of our kids are over there, doing exactly what Rusty described. We are working to find out their status.

  4. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    My goodness, hoping and praying for the best. What a terrifying situation for them and their families!

  5. Maybe privileged white guilt for having someone else pay $250K++ for you to attend an “elite university”, so you could emerge with a journalism or economics BA degree, and upon graduating realize your actual practical marketable life skills consist of waiting tables and slogging trays of beers, or serving in Congress?

  6. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    Why not (4) mediocre defense industry PR job?

    That is the general sense my untrained brain gets reading all the drama about Afghanistan these days.

    If Americans actually really deeply care about Afghanistan, they’ve done a great job of hiding it for the past 20 years.

  7. In many circles “blaming the victim” is very politically incorrect. Fact is - victims sometimes make unwise choices when the topic is personal safety. (I am referencing here the omission in most media outlets the background information of the US students trapped in Afghanistan).
    If you think this process is the main one then “fear of cancellation” is the answer, which is running dead last at a mere 4%. Fascinating

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