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Falluja is captured and the Mercury News is captivated

Which was the most important story on Sunday, Nov. 14?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the lead stories presented by the New York Times and the San Jose Mercury News:

ARMORED FORCES BLAST THEIR WAY INTO REBEL NEST

Army tanks and fighting vehicles blasted their way into the last main rebel stronghold in Falluja at sundown on Saturday after American warplanes and artillery prepared the way with a savage barrage on the district.

A CASE OF CAPTIVATION

The Laci Peterson murder case has been many things as it played out the past 22 months. Tragic, lurid, chilling, heart-wrenching.

But undeniably, it's also been one other thing -- strangely captivating.

The New York Times focused on the battle for Falluja, at what may be a pivotal point in the Second Iraq War, for its top story. Above the fold it also examined the upcoming Palestinian election in the wake of Yasir Arafat's death, and how the drug giant Merck delayed alerting the public to the dangers of its multi-billion-dollar painkiller Vioxx.

It was Peterson weekend at the Mercury News

Although the verdict in the Peterson case was handed down on Friday and the Mercury News had run a "second coming" headline on Saturday proclaiming the Modesto fertilizer salesman "GUILTY. NEXT FOR KILLER: LIFE OR DEATH?" it reserved the top of its Sunday paper for two more stories about the case.

The Code of Ethics of the Society for Professional Journalists proclaims that journalism's primary duty is "public enlightenment ... the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy."

Which set of news judgments better advanced public enlightenment?

There's no question that the sensational aspects of the Peterson case have generated a great deal of public attention. But other than its value in selling newspapers and newscasts, what will we learn from Mr. Peterson's conviction -- or the coming stories speculating about whether he'll be a "survivor," or voted off the planet?

Mercury News reporter Mark Emmons implies that it will be a great deal. He concludes his commentary about the case's popularity by calling it the "Great American Tragedy."

New York Times reporters Dexter Filkins and Robert F. Worth make no such claim for their report on the upheaval in Iraq.

But they do describe enormous destruction in a city 300,000 people once called home. They recount house-to-house combat that claimed the lives of almost 40 American soldiers, hundreds of resistance fighters and untold numbers of civilians. They also report on the ominous collapse of Iraqi police forces and outbreaks by hundreds, or thousands, of insurgents rampaging across the northern half of the nation.

Their reporting and the pictures of gritty, exhausted Marines fill in a picture of Iraq in the midst of widespread rebellion that may be turning the tide against the occupation.

The implications for the lives of American service men and women, for the hope of spreading democracy in the Middle East, for the effort to diminish terrorism and its threat to Israel and the United States, not to mention the obligation of the U.S. Treasury to pay for the destruction and rebuilding of Iraq, are unmistakable.

Toward the end of his commentary about the Peterson case in the Mercury News, Mr. Emmons writes: "The media saturation of this case made it impossible to avoid. The Mercury News played a role." It's unclear whether this is a boast or a confession.

But when we look back at coverage of the Peterson case and of the second Iraq War, I wonder whether the emphasis on a single man's innocence or guilt compared to the agony of a nation will seem journalistically responsible.

Or will the Mercury News' captivation with empty sensation signal the decline of a great newspaper?

What do you think? Discuss it in The Coffeehouse.

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