Friday, October 05, 2007

You provide the pictures ...

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yester-year, when unscrup-ulous news organi-zations would find a story to cook up, then fab-ricate a breathless "reaction" to it, then report on how the reaction spread, and so forth until the mob was at the castle gates with pitchforks and torches. Yes, it's the yellow journalism of the 21st century, and it's the Fair 'n' Balanced Crowd showing the way again!

This one first arose yesterday, and there are some good lessons in the basic blocking-and-tackling of propaganda therein:
1) Never invent facts; stick to inventing the implications that go around them.
2) Try to put a new layer of attribution between yourself and the original factoid every news cycle. (If you start with "Senate challenger says Foghorn has it off with goats comma sheep," you want to move as soon as possible through "Foghorn denies goat, sheep charge" to "Voters react to Foghorn denial" and "Poll shows denial costing Foghorn support.")
3) Force multiplication is your friend! Once the commentators start commentating, you have two streams of input to feed the reaction stories.

Enough theory, though: Let's wrap up News Judgment Week with a look at some practice!

Our story surfaces on Thursday, as Fox pumps some air into a low-bore AP piece that has Obama referring back a comment he'd made the day before in a TV interview. And the lede makes pretty clear it's a second-day story: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he no longer wears an American flag lapel pin because it has become a substitute for "true patriotism" since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Fox is cheating with the hed, "Obama Stops Wearing Flag Pin," but it's cheating on the syntax rather than the facts. In hed dialect, the present tense signals events in the "immediate past," or roughly the time since the most recent publication. Hence the second-cycling of, say, crime stories; when one news cycle (morning papers) uses "CONVENIENCE STORE ROBBED," the next cycle gets "CLUES SOUGHT IN ROBBERY" because the immediate past has rotated a notch. The hed you expect is on the order of "Obama explains lapel-pin comments," because the immediate past doesn't cover stuff that happened five or six years ago, but "violation of hed pragmatics" isn't the same as "liar, liar, pants on fire."

The real fun starts with today's follow-up, whence the illustration above is drawn. (The News Sociology Department would also like to point out that allotting staff resources to a story you'd originally taken off the AP wire signals a ratcheting-up of its perceived importance, and three Fox hands have a share of the byline on this puppy.) Again, there's nothing strictly false in the hed ("Candidates Have Their Say on Obama's Decision Not to Wear Flag Pin"). The reefer to the video ("VIDEO: Barack Obama Decides Not To Continnue Wearing a Flag Pin on his Lapel") is pragmatically misleading -- the immediate-past deal works for other forms of display type too -- but not technically false. "SPACE AVAILABLE"? Well, all that says is that "space is available"; it doesn't actually say "and the sinister green flag of Islam would look just peachy here," does it?

And the lede -- well, who's to tell the difference between a journalistic cliche and a bit of deliberate distortion?

Barack Obama may choose not to wear an American flag pin on his lapel, but many of the presidential contender's political rivals say they wouldn't leave home without one.

"Many," eh? Let's see:

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton told Thursday night that she sometimes wears a pin to show her patriotism. “Wearing a flag pin, flying the flag, pledging allegiance to the flag, talking about the values that are important to America, teaching your children about what a great nation you have, standing up for those values, speaking out … there’s just so many ways that one can demonstrate patriotism,” Clinton said at a Chicago fundraiser.

A spokesman for Joe Biden told that the Delaware senator "always wears a flag pin." It wasn't clear whether Dennis Kucinich wears a pin, but a spokeswoman told that the Ohio congressman does "does carry a mini copy of the Constitution in his pocket."

So far, it's one sometimes, one always and one -- well, the Kucinich Desk is welcome to check in here, but it sounds as if Dennis is rather pointedly suggesting that he falls back on a Higher Power.

No comment from Edwards, Dodd or Richardson. On the Party O'Lincoln side, McCain's in the "not daily" camp, with an aide saying his service record speaks to the issue quite adequately, thanks. Tancredo says he wears one "to show he’s proud to be an American" (which, of course, effectively dodges the frequency question). Huckabee's camp says he always wore the flag pin when he was governor (ibid, but he doesn't have to wipe the foam from around his lips). Hunter is "proud to wear an American flag pin as much as possible and on any occasion." No callbacks from Paul, Giuliani, Romney or Thompson.

So it looks like the confirmed "don't leave home without it" camp is down to Joe Biden and a cast of ... well, many. (For that matter, pace the frontpage cutline, only one of the candidates seems to have "sounded off" on Obama's decision.) But the lede's assertion isn't false in fact; we've just established a new context for the facts and moved the debate from what Obama said to what people said about what he said. And sure enough, by noon, the Streicherettes had begun to chime in. Pure-play textbook -- almost like watching Phil Ford run the Four Corners again, innit?

Somebody on the Obama campaign needs to buy the senator a copy of "The Virtue of STFU-ness." For the rest of us: The past isn't history. Hell, it isn't even past.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Oh, yeah. Because wearing a flag pin proves you'll be a good president.

Who was it said "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag"?

ps - if you're trying to fit the text alongside the picture, leave a space after the hyphens.

9:59 PM, October 05, 2007  

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