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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Got full information?

The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a whole story about the photograph of the hooded Iraqi prisoner with wires attached to his fingers without mentioning that the prisoner in the photo was being spoofed: that he was not actually harmed, but was being given a fright.

The Chronicle’s pretext for this malfeasance? It seems that a dizzy San Francisco novelist named Robert Mailer Anderson has been plastering San Francisco with posters of the infamous picture superimposed over the American flag and with the caption "Got Democracy?" underneath. The Chronicle essentially took up Anderson's campaign, reprinting his poster on the front of an inside section and publishing Anderson’s gripes about the government. The story can even be taken as suggesting that the shock treatment shown in the picture is real. Instead of describing the photo as a picture of an Iraqi prisoner with fake electrodes on his fingers, the story refers to “the most enduring image of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal—the Iraqi man, hooded, his hands tied with electrodes.”

People can go back and forth about whether fake electrodes can legitimately be called “electrodes,” so Chronicle reporter Jonathan Curiel might be absolved of misrepresenting the facts by commission, but he is certainly guilty of misrepresentation by omission. The picture depicts fake shock treatment, and a story about the picture ought not to leave that fact out. This is particularly pertinent in a story about a campaign that is plastering the picture all over the city without including any information about what the picture actually depicts. San Franciscans looking for the most basic information about this suddenly ubiquitous image won’t find it in the Chronicle, even in a story about the image.

Why does Anderson deserve to be called “dizzy”? This poster campaign is his reaction to being delayed at the airport when his two year old daughter turned out to have the same name as someone on homeland security's “no-fly” list. While our soldiers risk their lives for his freedom, Anderson takes extreme umbrage at being the least bit put out for national security. (“We almost missed our flight,” he says.) Letting his imagination run wild (an occupational hazard for novelists?) Mr. Center of the Universe decides that America must no longer be a democracy. This is worse than we thought. Who knew that imaginary torture was contagious?

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