Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Truth In Media

One of the biggest gripes that I have with the media is that they don't seem to bother with getting facts straight when they report on what they understand to be trivial stories about places other than the United States.

Winter is always tough going for gladiators — or rather “centurions,” as Mr. Eluca described himself — but this season is proving particularly tough.
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If Mr. Eluca has intentionally costumed himself as a Roman Centurion, describing him as a "gladiator" is akin to describing someone dressed as a United States Army captain as a civilian Tactical Shooting contestant, and then putting the self-description of "Army captain" in scare quotes. (Okay, it's clumsy, but it's the most accurate analogy that I can come up with. In both cases one is describing a person who is attempting to portray themselves as a soldier as a civilian who uses military skills in a sporting context.)

There is a photograph that accompanies the article. The caption reads, in part: "A man dressed as a Roman gladiator, passing by Bulgari, on Via Condotti." This man isn't dressed as a gladiator - the style of helmet that he's wearing is unique to the Praetorian Guard - the men who once guarded Rome's generals, and then its emperors. This isn't the costume of a slave prizefighter - it's the regalia of the Secret Service of the age. And it's unlikely that any Italian who would go through the trouble of dressing up to to pose for pictures with tourists would be unaware of the distinction. I know all of this simply because I'm a ancient military history buff - I'm fully aware that the average person on the street is unlikely to know any of this, or care. But that's no reason to no bother to get it right.

(And this isn't the first time that I've seen this happen. In our local newspaper, they printed a photograph, some time back, claiming to show a number of men in gladiator costumes, in front of the Forum in Rome. The men were actually in Legionnaire costumes - and in front of the Flavian Amphitheater [better known as the Colosseum].)

I know that I've harped on this before, but I'll harp on it again. If a story isn't worth getting the details right, it's not worth reporting. How can we use the media to become informed about the world, if they can't be bothered to be accurate?

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