Sunday, August 01, 2010

Gee, do you think ...

And for the time and location of a spontaneous outburst of popular anger against your congressman next month, be sure to click the link below!

The "inverted pyramid" is a bit of a misnomer. Up close, a news story tends to look more like a series of upward-pointing triangles: there's a broad assertion at the top of the triangle, followed by specific bits of primary and secondary evidence that support it or show why contradictory voices are wrong. So a story asserting that the public is angry might typically start with that claim, then follow with a couple of survey results or an anecdote about a demonstration, then follow that with some individual voters' anger, then bring in some experts (who indicate that "both sides" are at least talking about the issue), and so forth. From the frontpage teaser above, this looks like a news story, but when you get inside, it's different:

As members of Congress head back to their districts for the August recess, they could be met by the same rowdy town halls that rocked the national healthcare debate last summer.

But this summer, record-breaking government spending would fuel the voter uprising, conservatives say.

See the pivot foot move? That's classic question-begging. The evidence graf doesn't support the assertion; it simply assumes that there will be a "voter uprising" by way of explaining what the party expects to fuel it. (If you paid attention to the reporting of the Tea Party movement last year, you can be forgiven for recalling that the AP and other agencies fell quite enthusiastically for the "fed up with govment spending" line. Fox should spend more time in its own clip files.)

"This is democracy's way of making a midcourse correction and providing checks and balances to a runaway federal government," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Fox News.

Cute, but which assertion is he supporting?

Endangered centrist Democrats are distancing themselves from their president and party's big spending.

... Even some liberal Democrats are taking a pounding and considered at risk, including Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who ran as a mom in tennis shoes.

"Even some" sets up a contrast that isn't there, which is then supported by evidence from ... an attack ad! (ZOMG even liberals come to Casablanca for the waters are subject to Republican attack ads?) The "mom in tennis shoes" campaign -- get off the lawn, you kids -- was in 1992, which might make this paragraph valuable as a single-malt scotch but renders it particularly stale as a non sequitur.

... Amid the attacks, a sputtering economy, and record-high federal spending, Democrats may postpone any additional spending votes until a post-election lame duck session.

"I don't think Dems are going to want some massive number on the front of every newspaper, at the top of every newscast right prior to the public voting in Nov. 2," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

That's as may be. I can think of lots of massive numbers (combat deaths, hurricane damage, new unemployment claims) that no incumbent party would like to have on the front of every paper or the top of every newscast at the brink of an election. But numbers aren't ordered to the top of the front page by the Holy Spirit. They're put there and kept there by mortals. It's hard to see how, here at the end of July, we can be predicting what will lead front pages and newscasts on Nov. 2, unless ....

Anyway, long story short: No. Predicting those entirely unplanned bursts of grassroots rage against the Party of Profligacy is pretty much the same as predicting invasions from Mars, except that Fox and its minions haven't yet been able to browbeat the hitherto professional "mainstream media" into covering a fabricated invasion from Mars.* This is only a story if people who ought to know better allow it to be made into a story. Grownup journalists will adhere to Walter Burns's long-ago advice: When the Tea Party calls to demand coverage of the next day's spontaneous outbreak of popular anger, tell 'em their poetry smells and kick 'em downstairs.

* They might want to try studying the Orson Welles oeuvre a little. On second thought, they might not.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: "It's hard to see how, here at the end of July, we can be predicting what will lead front pages and newscasts on Nov. 2"

I think Fox knows very well what will be leading their newscasts on November 2, regardless of what happens after the polls close -- and they knew it on November 5, 2008.

2:14 AM, August 01, 2010  

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