Monday, February 25, 2008

Propaganda prize

Here's a strikingly skillful illustration of the propa- gandist's art that seems -- at this writing -- to have worked itself into real news coverage. Please, if you're thinking about running this tale in a grownup newspaper, stop.
At above right is Fox News's centerpiece* from late morning. It's a beautifully executed bank shot: Matt Drudge posts a picture with a rumor that it came from the Clinton camp, Fox posts a story with a note that it's "working to confirm" the story, and by this carom, the Obama campaign is reacting to Fox's report of Drudge's rumor. And this entertaining little sideswipe is on its way to being "news."
As you'll note, Fox (at right) refers to this in the cutline as the "Muslim dress" photo, though Fox's stories themselves only referred to the costume as "Somali" -- until Fox could let someone else say the M-word:
Expressing outrage, Obama’s campaign suggested the purpose of the photo release was to invoke reminders of persistent rumors that Obama is secretly Muslim, and by extension, anti-American.
Brill! Fox has been able to say "Obama's a Muslim" all day without ever having to -- you know, lie or anything. (I mean, the Fox coverage carefully points out that Obama has "repeatedly denied that he is Muslim").
Before long, when campaign flacks start calling teleconferences (and reporters forget that the obligation to cover an event does not entail an obligation to write about it), other news organizations start to pay attention too. The AP says the appearance of the photo "is causing a dustup in the presidential campaign over what constitutes a smear." Obama, the AP notes, "is a member of the United Church of Christ and says he is not now and has never been a Muslim." (As LBJ probably -- alas -- didn't say, why claim it when you can make the sumbitch deny it?)
And McClatchy pushes things ahead with this helpful bit of context:
The photo could be interpreted as suggestive of Muslim garb.
So, of course, can blue jeans and sport coats. If McClatchy thinks it has some readers who are so blindingly stupid as to have missed that implication, the least it can do is add an obvious and equally "objective" relative clause: "... which was exactly the intent of whoever fed it to Drudge."
Brief detour to Media Theory Land. Gatekeeping theory is called "gatekeeping" for a reason. When something isn't a story, you can actually close the gate and ignore it. We call that "news judgment." It's worth a try, you think?
* Who's "dis-dressing" whom in that photo is a different layer of context that I'll leave to our visual colleagues.


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