Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ministry of fear

For the cousins over at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, a couple of observations about the relationship between language and the real world:

I am not a rock formation. Language Czarina is not a blonde former Miss California. I have three appointments at various times today, and none of them are two riverboats and a Companion. "Name" and "thing" are not identical. Got it?

That might sound a little elementary, but you need to bear it in mind to appreciate the bank shot shown above and where it fits into the worldview that Fox wants you to share. Fox's report, the No. 3 story on Wednesday morning, is in most ways technically "true" -- that is, two passengers with names "tied to Islamic terrorism" were "reportedly" on the ill-fated jet. Fox isn't making the main assertion itself, merely rewriting the highly reliable Sky News:
Two names on doomed Air France Flight 447's passenger list also appear on a list of radical Muslims considered a threat to France, according to French investigators.

Whether you can actually be a "terrorist" without doing something terroristic -- well, that's probably a question for the ages. But Fox's lede is tamer than Sky's:
Two passengers with names linked to Islamic terrorism were on the Air France flight which crashed with the loss of 228 lives, it has emerged.
For you attribution fans out there, "it has emerged" is a peculiarly British way of doing timeliness without agency, often associated with being second; when the story's your own, you need something like "The Beast can reveal." Anyway, back to Fox:
French secret servicemen established the connection while working through the list of those who boarded the doomed Airbus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 31.

Agents are now trying to establish dates of birth for the two dead passengers, and family connections.
Hmm. Is "date of birth" the sort of information that's in that little strip on your passport, and if so is it already about one keystroke away from somebody? Or does that just ruin it for everybody?
There is a possibility that the name similarities are simply a "macabre coincidence," the source added, but the revelation is still being "taken very seriously."
You can tell Fox has done some value-added editing here. At Sky, the graf introducing "the source" actually comes first: A source working for the French security services told Paris weekly L'Express that the link was "highly significant". Either way, though -- isn't this the sort of thing that grizzled editors used to wad up and throw across the room before beating the reporter over the head with any big-city phone book sprinkled with Khaleds and McGuinnesses and Sterns? As in, before you write that your neighbor John Brown is a anti-gummint terrorist, would you mind verifying that he's actually the one born in 1800?
Which, of course, would defeat the purpose. By the time this tale reached CNN's feckless "iReport" site (exhibit B above), the two people who purportedly shared names with purported radicals had become "2 known terrorists." And just imagine how things look over in FreeRepublicStan. You can see why nobody bothers to ask whether Sky (along with Fox and the other bedmates) might have carried a follow-up today:
Meanwhile, two terror suspects who died alongside 226 other passengers on the stricken jet have been ruled out as a cause of the disaster.
Well, that just takes all the fun out of it, huh? You read all the way to the seventh paragraph and find out that "coincidence" was the right bet after all. Except ...
The two men only "shared the same name" as known Islamic radicals, posthumous security checks found.
... how'd they get to be "terror suspects" if they only "shared the same name" with the purportedly known radicals? Ah, sweet mystery of life.
It'd be nice to conclude that proper application of journalism routines would keep stuff like this from happening. But that's exactly the point. Fox isn't ignoring news routines; it's just being selective about the ones it applies. That way, it's able to carry out its ideological purpose -- making sure you're scared of the right things at the right times -- without having to resort to anything unsavory like out-and-out lying.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Because each and every person on this planet has a unique, individual name, one, moreover, which they are forced to put on passports and other identification by some physical law.

Right, "terror suspect" Edward Kennedy?

5:53 AM, June 12, 2009  

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