Friday, September 04, 2009

Aiding and abetting

Uh, no. No, it doesn't -- "alarm parents," that is. This one is directly and specifically the fault of the copydesk (that'll be the desk of The News and Observer of Raleigh, if you're scoring along at home). And it illustrates a central principle of news framing: There is no zero milestone. If you think you aren't choosing an organizing principle for your news story, you can rest assured that one is being chosen for you.

You want alarm? OK, a couple of weeks ago, a guy running away from a fatal accident* decided to betake himself up Main Street and meld into the topiary or something. Having no success in locating him (it being 3 or 4 in the morning and all), the cops called in a helicopter from the Coast Guard. Helicopter going over the house at 4:30 in the morning low enough to track some guy last seen running from yard to yard, that was "alarming." These people are -- well, let's give them a listen:

"The thing that concerned me most about it was it seemed like a direct channel from the president of the United States into the classroom, to my child," said Brett Curtiss, an engineer from Pearland, Texas, who said he would keep his three children home. "I don't want our schools turned over to some socialist movement."

... Mark Steyn, a Canadian author and political commentator, speaking on Rush Limbaugh's radio show on Wednesday, accused Obama of trying to create a cult of personality, comparing him with Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader.

The Republican Party chairman in Florida, Jim Greer, said he "was appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology."

And Chris Stigall, a Kansas City talk show host, said, "I'm not letting my next-door neighbor talk to my kid alone; I'm sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone."

So even if "parents" means "one parent, a party hack and some gasbags," it's pretty clear that what they are is "deluded" (except for the gasbags and party hacks; they're evidently "paid liars," though we'd need to restructure the sentence to get all that to coordinate properly). Not "alarmed." But back to the second graf for a moment:

Some parents said they were concerned because the speech had not been screened for political content. Nor, they said, had it been reviewed by the state Board of Education and local school boards, which, under state law, must approve the curriculum.

Hmm. Wonder where all those ideas came from? Let's ask another paper that -- funny -- also used the "speech causes uproar" hed:

U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a Livonia Republican, and U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., are asking Obama to release the text of the speech in advance.

Make sense now? (That's really the point of framing, after all; it's a sensemaking tool that helps you organize a bunch of random data into a narrative.) This is part of the "just release the birth certificate" narrative: the secretive Marxist cabal in the White House is doing stuff behind your back again, despite its (false) promises of openness. The president could stop all these uproars in advance, if only he would let the American People see the documents!

Most of the other familiar meta-frames emerge in the coverage: Socialism, fascism, hidden motives, arrogance and the cult of personality, radical associates, scorn for the Constitution, lust for clandestine power grabs -- and don't forget the Teleprompter. Alarmed? Nah. Summoned to action by a clever propaganda apparat? Getting warmer.

More and more, it's also clear that there's something else below the surface. When somebody says the Confederate flag in his license plate holder is about heritage, not race, my first thought tends to be: It's about race, glad we cleared that up. And when somebody at the "town hall" tells EyeWitlessNews7 or the Daily Beast that it's about the socialisms or the Bill Ayerses or the death panels or the secret Hitlerjugend camps, I'm starting to think the same thing: Glad we cleared that up.

The hed, once again, is directly the desk's fault. The NYT story under it is a bit oblique; it plays by the rules of journalism, so it can't actually call Mark Steyn a babbling loony or ask whether the engineer has designed any bridges on your route to work, but you can get a pretty good idea of who's doing what to whom. It's all right to leave the anti-loony invective for the editorial pages (where, frankly, it's about time the volume was turned up a bit), but the newspages need to do their bit as well. And part of that is an end to aiding and abetting intellectual fraud in headlines.

* "Fled the scene on foot in an unknown direction" is the technical journalistic term.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Amazing how fast they've gone from "dissing the president is treason", isn't it? (hat tip TPM)

8:49 PM, September 04, 2009  

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