Just one day after Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, the Los Angeles Times was already publishing an instant analysis -- without so labeling it.
Whatever happened to cooler heads prevailing? Instead, we get "Yahhhh! They're coming for us!" right from the lede:
The decision by the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram to pledge allegiance to Islamic State amounts to a significant propaganda coup for the Syrian-based organization, analysts say, and raises questions about whether the Nigerian militants could morph into a more global threat.
Global threat? C'mon, LATimes, stick to what you know. Your article wasn't labeled "Analysis" or "Commentary," and it should have stayed that way. Especially when your article doesn't back up that wild allegation. And in some places, contradicts it.
The Times recites what you already know, if you’ve read any Boko Haram news in the last five years: villages overrun, Nigerian soldiers routed, civilians slaughtered, students murdered in their own schools, girls abducted and sold as slaves, children used as suicide bombers.
The article notes also that the Islamic State uses similar terror tactics, something you also probably knew. The Times then tries to dial up the fear factor by guessing at the implications of a relationship with the Islamic State.
Military support could be one, the newspaper's sources say. But even then, the crystal ball is hazy: "What’s not clear is the extent to which Boko Haram – whose insurgency has been largely a local fight against the Nigerian state – might begin to attack Western targets in Nigeria."
Nor does the Times show that by joining the IS sphere, Boko Haram could become a more global threat (as if it's one now). Not when the paper offers this background:
Boko Haram’s attempt to set up an Islamic state in northern Nigeria appears to be failing, in a sign the group may have overreached militarily. It has lost control of scores of towns and villages in recent weeks, pounded by a 10,000-strong regional force, including the armies of Chad, Niger and Cameroon alongside Nigeria.
The story doesn't say how many fighters Boko Haram has, but other newspapers, like the Christian Science Monitor, estimate the group at 6,000. So this potential global threat is outmanned and on the defensive on its home turf. A flawed analysis at best.
Not that the Times is the sole guilty party in such. MSNBC couldn't resist adding analysis. The Daily Mail in London said the Boko Haram pledge showed the Islamic State taking a "terrifying stranglehold on Nigeria." And CNN managed to make an article of less than 700 words sound boring, with a densely written analysis that left terms like "takfiri" undefined.
There's a way to handle these things without sounding sirens, and the Associated Press did it:
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Nigeria’s home-grown Boko Haram group, newly weakened by a multinational force that has dislodged it from a score of northeastern towns, reportedly pledged formal allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The pledge to IS came in an Arabic audio message with English subtitles alleged to have come from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and posted Saturday on Twitter, according to the SITE Intelligence monitoring service.
“We announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims … and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity regarding that which there is a proof from Allah,” said the message. IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared himself the caliph.
Ironically, the LATimes itself ran a previous version of the AP report.
OK, I understand that the news media see competition on all sides, sort of like Boko Haram must be seeing right now. And they feel the need to add context, explain "what it means," not just recite facts and events.
There are ways to do that. Tell us when you're reporting and when you're analyzing. Put them in companion pieces instead of the same stewpot.
And when you do analyze, take a little time. Make it more than a reading of goat entrails by your favorite think tankers.