Lousy journalism

One of my (very much) leftist e-mail correspondents, thoroughly infected with Bush Derangement Syndrome, tried to make a point that Iraqis were living in peace and harmony before the war (I guess your life was peaceful enough if you didn’t put a toe out of line; otherwise you might get shot), and as proof of that she cited the “high rate of intermarriage” between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Well, being as my trust for this person’s information is such that I would check her math if she claimed that 2 + 2 = 4, I googled up “Sunni”"Shiite” and “intermarriage.” I got 9,200 hits for that search, and plenty of them said things like this:

    Intermarriage was common. Friction existed, but it stemmed mainly from resentment over government preferences given to the minority Sunnis. Shiites directed most of their anger toward Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, not the neighbor down the street.

And this:

    The cities of Iraq have diverse populations, with much intermarriage between peoples of different religious and national backgrounds.

I found plenty, plenty, of sites telling me that Sunni-Shi’ite intermarriage was “common,” or that intermarriage rates were “high.” Perhaps that’s where my friend got her information.

But words like “common” and “high” are very imprecise. In the several pages that I searched, I came across one, and only one, with actual numbers. That was Juan Cole (referenced by Tigershark), the University of Michigan history professor who writes frequently on the Middle East, and who isn’t exactly a neo-conservative, who reported:

    Sabrina Tavernise of the (New York Times) shows that Sunni-Shiite intermarriage in Baghdad has fallen from 3-5% in 2002 (the year before the invasion — Ed.) to virtually 0% today, as sectarian rancor has increased and broken up past such marriages.*

One doesn’t normally think of The New York Times as a hotbed of war supporters, either.

Baghdad is, of course, the most cosmopolitan of Iraqi cities, both before the war and now. One would normally expect higher rates of intermarriage there, where Sunnis and Shi’ites simply had more opportunities to meet. And the numbers, from a source normally considered both reliable and not supportive of the Bush Administration, put the intermarriage rate at between 3 and 5%. I don’t know about you, but to me, a 3 to 5% intermarriage rate doesn’t exactly strike me as either “common” or “high.”

What happened? Well, I don’t know, with certainty, in every individual case, but my somewhat educated guess is that someone (whomever “someone” might be) said that the rate was “high,” and the Western lemmings reporters, rather than actually try to find out themselves, simply passed it on as gospel. No one actually checked, because that would have been too much like work, especially since the records were certainly in Arabic. Finally, one reporter did do the work, and put quantitative numbers rather than qualitative adjectives down on paper — and the qualitative adjectives were shown to be rubbish.

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* – The original article from the Times is now hidden behind the paid archives wall.

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11 Comments

  1. Pingback: Media Lies

  2. Cultural Anthro 101:

    Cross cousin marriage is one of most commonly found marriage patterns among a wide range of the world’s peoples. In cultures where preservation of family property is paramount, cross cousin marriage keeps property in the extended family, even in divorce, and is often found associated with hereditary kingships.

  3. Thanks for the Anthro lesson, BJ, though you might’ve noted the many problems casued by and associated with tribalism. And the fact of this cross cousin marriage in Iraqi culture works against the lefty email correspondent’s thesis, doesn’t it.

  4. Well, Matt, her thesis was just flat wrong, based (charitably) ongetting bad information from lazy juornalists.

    I went through a lot of pages on the Googleâ„¢ results, and most of them simply said that intermarriage was “common” (or its variant, “not uncommon”) or that rates were “high.” While there were several hits that weren’t germane at all, only one put numbers on teh situation.

    Let’s take her position: if pre-war intermarriage rates really were high, she’s have had a solid case that the sectarian violence was not necessary. Assuming that the only information on which she had to go was that the rates were “high,” how could one blame her for coming to a faulty conclusion?

    It’s just that when she said the rates were high, I didn’t believe her; it was one of those statements that just didn’t sound true to me, and so I looked it up.

  5. Matt, your link doesn’t work for me. However, tribalism by itself is a rather stable principle on which to base social relationships, both within the tribe and between tribes. It only causes problems when the culture is changing and attempts to replace traditional tribal associations with modern organizational principles result in competing demands for loyalty.

    For example, when very personal clan and tribal loyalties come into conflict with the demands of distant and unrelated bureaucrats, there’s likely to be trouble. The bureaucrats blame resistance on tribalism, but from the perspective of the tribe and its members, such demands are seen as unwanted interference in private business, visited upon them by uninformed outsiders who have little at stake, but who nevertheless insist on imposing unworkable programs.

    The issue is a difficult one, and solutions which condemn only traditional practices, without understanding the very good reasons why they persist, will meet resistance.

    Additionally, you are correct, the Lefty emailer is pushing bunk.

  6. It’s not Lousy Journalism, it’s lazy journalism ala Jason Blair. Why look when others have produced your facts for you. I like Rush’s description as the “Drive By Media”

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