BBG Watch

A few days ago, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) news operation for international audiences speculated in a headline and in an accompanying news report from London that British Prime Minister David Cameron could be “ousted” in the British general elections. Nearly all of the election outcome predictions in the VOA news report from London did not come true.

Voice of America Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 2.33 PM ET

SEE: Oops, Cameron not ousted as Voice of America speculated, BBG Watch, May 8, 2015.

A few days later, VOA is making a similar mistake with another speculative headline “Boston Marathon Bomber May End Up in ‘Alcatraz of Rockies’.” This headline may not be as potentially damaging as the earlier one, which involved a government leader of a U.S. ally, but it is, one-sided, speculative and highly suggestive.

Theoretically, anything is possible. The convicted individual may die from natural causes, commit suicide or even escape before being sentenced — all highly unlikely. He could be sentenced to death, but the VOA report appears to read more like the defense team’s argument for sparing Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the death penalty than a neutral news account of what has already happened and what may happen.

The focus of the VOA report is almost entirely on on the defense team and its arguments. Some of the earlier VOA reports from the trial followed a similar pattern, although VOA had posted also a few AP and Reuters reports which offered a more balanced coverage. Prosecutors argued that Tsarnaev is a jihadist who intended to kill and maim as many people as possible, including children, for whom the day is a school holiday, Yahoo News reported. The prosecutors also said the defendant has shown no remorse for his crimes and deserves the death penalty.

Other U.S. media offered, in our opinion, more balanced and overall better coverage of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial. Here are two examples of more neutral headlines and news reports:

What would Dzhokhar Tsarnaev face in Supermax prison? | CNN

What could be worse for Tsarnaev? Death or life in a super-max prison | Yahoo News

There is nothing wrong with describing in a news report that a life without parole sentence might be an alternative to a death sentence and what life without parole might look like in a federal prison.

CNN and other news media had similar stories. To our knowledge, however, none of them gave considerably more attention to the defense team narrative than to the arguments of the prosecution or engaged in a one-sided speculation. This is what the Voice of America did, both in the headline, but also in the report itself. An earlier VOA report, “Boston Marathon Bomber’s Life Hangs in the Balance,” also followed a similar pattern.