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Monday, November 27, 2006
This Is A Depiction Of A Martyr?
Topic: NewsBusters

A Nov. 27 NewsBusters post by Warner Todd Huston claimed that an Associated Press article on Malachi Ritscher -- who doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire as an apparent protest of the Iraq war -- was "sympathetic" to Ritscher, 'lioniz[es]" him and "tries its darndest to turn this man into an anti-war hero," claiming it is "filled with quotes from his admiring friends and laments about his 'cause.' " Huston writes that "The AP also goes to pains to make readers believe that 'Malachi' Ritscher might not have been mentally disturbed in an obvious attempt to legitimize his final action," then goes on to wax indignant about Ritscher's "rather unbalanced mental state," not to mention his "utter lack of knowledge about the political system our Founding Fathers created."

But nowhere does Huston actually quote from the AP article. That may be because the article, in fact, does not "lionize" Ritscher. It points out the circumstances surrounding his death:

It took five days for the Cook County medical examiner to identify the charred-beyond-recognition corpse. Meanwhile, Ritscher's suicide went largely unnoticed. It wasn't until a reporter for an alternative weekly, the Chicago Reader, pieced the facts together that word began to spread.

The article also quotes the man as calling Ritscher "a very lonely and tragic man," and notes that "Mental health experts say virtually no suicides occur without some kind of a diagnosable mental illness."

Perhaps what irks Huston so about this article is that it didn't didn't come to the conclusion he wanted it to -- that Ritscher is a loon whose death was meaningless and, therefore, must be ignored. In fact, the article reaches no conclusion; it raises the martyr angle but provides enough details of his mental history to let readers reach their own conclusions.

Perhaps the idea that someone -- especially a news service like AP -- won't follow his conservative beliefs and dismiss other beliefs out of hand and will come to their own conclusions is what irks Huston the most. Not exactly the stuff of quality media criticism.

Posted by Terry K. at 7:49 PM EST
Updated: Monday, November 27, 2006 9:23 PM EST

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