What do you do if you're the New York Times and you're faced with having to report on an incident-free soccer match in Iraq that had 40,000 in attendance?
Why, you bury it in a totally unrelated story about a bombing, omit any mention of it in the headline, and hope against hope that only a few readers bother to reach the seventh paragraph.
Here's how the report by Erica Goode and Stephen Farrell began:
Bomb Shatters Party, Killing 25 Iraqis
Sheik Ayed Salim al-Zubaie held a large dinner party at his house in Abu Ghraib on Sunday evening to celebrate the release of a family member who had been imprisoned by American forces for three years.
But as the guests sat in the garden waiting for dinner to be served, one, a man wearing a yellow dishdasha, or robe, detonated explosives hidden inside it. The bombing killed at least 25 people and wounded at least 29 others, the police said.
Witnesses speculated that the target of the attack was a group of sheiks attending the dinner who had been working with the Americans to fight insurgents.
Finally, in Paragraph 7, Goode and Farrell got around to two paragraphs about the soccer match. But check out the incoherence that followed:
One dividend of the relative quiet was the largest crowd in decades at a playoff match between two Iraqi soccer teams in Baghdad on Sunday. Government officials estimated that 40,000 people crowded into Shaab Stadium and thousands more stood outside to see the match between the Baghdad home team, Zawra, and a Kurdish team from Erbil.
“I’m here with my family because the security is much better and my daughter got tired sitting at home,” said Uday Adnan, 29. “I live in the Shaab neighborhood and I move freely even if it is 9 p.m., which I couldn’t do for a long time.”
Abu Ghraib, which was the setting of the bomb attack on Sunday and is known for its notorious prison, is a Sunni area about 18 miles west of Baghdad.
American helicopters picked up some of those most seriously wounded in the bombing, presumably to take them to a military hospital. “I just lost my brother, but I pray to God to save my son,” said Abdullah Hamdan, 50, whose 8-year-old son was wounded.
The soccer match lasted three hours and was won by Erbil, 1-0, in overtime. It was Kurdistan’s second finals victory in a row. Last year’s match was held in the north, because Baghdad was considered too dangerous.
If you're keeping score, that's:
- Two grafs about soccer.
- Two grafs about the bombing, with absolutely no indication that the writers are moving back to their original topic (with a cheap-shot red-meat reference to Abu Ghraib).
- Then, back to the soccer match.
After five additional paragraphs on the soccer match, Goode and Farrell moved to a third story about the capture of "two suspected senior leaders of Al Qaeda."
They're slipping. I thought it was Times policy to call any AQ member in Iraq part of "Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia."
There was no reason to intertwine the first two stories, other than to minimize the significance of the soccer match. That the match isn't in the story's headline is proof enough that the Times wanted to be able to say, "See, we covered it," while doing all it could to minimize the number of readers exposed to it.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.