Sunday, January 18, 2009

The construction of reality

Today's front page offers another example of the made-up story: not supernatural creatures prowling the suburbs or slanderous fictions about a candidate's past, but an unsupported statement about the way things ought to be if only you people would pay attention.
News is "objective" because it's (at least notionally) empirical. Something observable distinguishes today from yesterday: Troops cross border, volcano kills hundreds, plane lands in river. Our lead hed here is stating a testable relationship that would yield such a difference. There's a measurable thing called "'Buy American' pressure," it's greater at Time B than it was at Time A, and that difference is significant at some predetermined confidence level (meaning it represents a real difference, not an accident of sampling or measurement). But our story isn't about any such thing. It's about a woman who annoys her fellow drivers, and then it veers off to a development official, some guys who make bumper stickers and a self-selecting poll of online readers.
The story proclaims that "'Buy American' is a revived sentiment these days in Michigan," and it asks the development official whether "the most recent resurgence in Buy American sentiment" is a good thing, but it doesn't say how those conclusions were reached -- or even whether the newspaper is interested in (or capable of) measuring them. Those sentiments might be real or they might not; either way, the process that put them at the top of the front page is a persuasive one, not a journalistic one. It's no different from what another news organization -- let's call it Rabid Hyena News -- might do by proclaiming that "concerns are growing" about some candidate's unrepentant socialist anti-American terrorist plans to ruin entire industries, or that "outrage" has followed some ruling that threatens Our Kids. It reflects the news organization's view of how the world works, and it resonates ideologically with the audience, but it isn't really news.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

What's more "patriotic": putting money into the pocket of the CEOs of the Big Three, or the workers at the many plants in this country owned by Nissan, etc? Or is that beyond her?

5:15 PM, January 18, 2009  

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