February 15, 2008

Story About Supplier of Mentally Ill Bombers in Iraq Largely Ignored (See Update)

This one has an interesting twist relating to Google News that I will get to later. (See Update below for correction and clarification.)

It should be no surprise that the so-called “newspapers of record” did very little with the news earlier this week that the actiing director of an Iraqi psychiatric hospital had been arrested for allegedly supplying mentally ill patients for use as, for lack of a better description, unwillingly co-opted “suicide bombers.”

Here’s the essence of the story, in case you missed it, from the Times of London:

Iraq Hospital Chief Allegedly Supplied Patients for Bombings

The acting director of a Baghdad psychiatric hospital has been arrested on suspicion of supplying Al Qaeda in Iraq with the mentally impaired women it used to blow up two crowded animal markets in the city on Feb. 1, killing about 100 people.

Iraqi security forces and U.S. soldiers arrested the man at al-Rashad hospital in east Baghdad on Sunday. They then spent three hours searching his office and removing records. Sources told The Times that the two female bombers had been treated at the hospital in the past.

“They [the security forces] arrested the acting director, accusing him of working with Al Qaeda and recruiting mentally ill women and using them in suicide bombing operations,” a hospital official said.

Ibrahim Muhammad Agel, director of the hospital, was killed in the Mansour district of Baghdad on Dec. 11 by gunmen on motorbikes. Colleagues suspect he was shot for refusing to cooperate with Al Qaeda.

Even before Sunday’s arrest, U.S. officials believed that Al Qaeda was scouring Iraq’s hospitals for mentally impaired patients whom it could dupe into acting as homicide bombers. They said that Al Qaeda had used the mentally impaired as unwitting bombers before.

Fox News’s web site carried a British paper’s story about the arrest for a good reason: US newspapers barely noticed it.

A New York Times search on Iraq hospital (not in quotes) turned up nothing relating to the above story.

At the Washington Post, the same search shows a link that goes to an Associated Press story (“Iraqi Hospital Chief Linked to al-Qaida”) by Kim Gamel, that you will eventually see was carried by very few of AP’s subscribing newspapers.

The Los Angeles Times is the only paper of “The Big Three” newspapers of record that provided its own story (“Hospital chief questioned in Baghdad blasts”).

Note how much less informative the AP and LAT headlines are compared to the one used by the Times of London (though the LAT’s subheadline, “He may have aided insurgents in finding mentally disabled bombers, U.S. says,” is appropriately descriptive).

Here’s where it gets interesting.

A Google News search on “Iraq mentally ill hospital arrest” (not in quotes) done at 9:45 ET this morning returned the following results (picture shows all relevant results; red boxes are mine):

GoogNewsIraqHspOvw021508

Wow. It looks like there are 231 articles about this.

Uh no, there aren’t. Clicking on the “all 231 new articles” link yielded this result (picture only shows first two results):

GoogNewsIraqHospDtl021508

So there are really only 19 or 20 “articles” (the original search returned “about 25″ not-described items). Anyone not clicking on the “all 231 news articles” link would have the incorrect impression that this story received much more coverage than really occurred.

Is that a Google News bug, or a feature?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

_____________________________________________

UPDATE: Justin at Right on the Right has corrected me on my Google News contention. I am extremely grateful for receiving this information.

It seems that if you click on “all articles” links at Google News, you get taken to pages that eliminate “duplicates,” which would represent the same article published at different outlets. Then, if you click on “Sort by Date with Duplicates Included,” you will get the expected number of results, or something very close to it.

So I stand corrected on the nature of and possible incorrectness of Google’s estimate of the number of articles available. I am sorry that I didn’t understand what Justin pointed out to me sooner, and regret the error.

Having said that, I would suggest that a saturation story, which the subject of this post should have been, would normally get many more than 230-240 mentions. For example, the first Google News listing on the murders at Northern Illinois University currently has a link to “All 4,303 articles.” I believe that the story of a hospital director in Iraq allowing Al Qaeda to use mentally ill people to kill about 15 times more people than died at NIU should be getting a lot more than 5.6% (240 divided by 4,303) of the coverage the NIU story has received, and contend that my characterization of the story as “largely ignored” remains “largely accurate.”

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1 Comment

  1. I believe this to be an intentional feature not a bug as I have noted on occasions when running searches such as AGW topics for instance the pro-AGW selections seem to vastly outnumber the anti-AGW selections by pushing the anti-AGW toward the end of the search selections. This is just another form of steering people’s choices, like omissions.

    Comment by dscott — February 15, 2008 @ 10:51 am

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