Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Century mark

For this 100th edition of Letters and Papers, a few comments on a he-said she-said article from the LA Times.

The postmodern-esque disease at the root of modern political journalism is the propensity to act as sound-bite stenographers. You're not allowed to say who is lying, or who is wrong. You must give equal time to opposing partisans. If an issue reflects badly on one party, a similar pejorative issue must be found for the opposing party, no matter how dissimilar or inconsequential. No judgment, no reasoning. The main tool is the tape recorder.

Witness the article I linked, where the main story is "Bush says critics in Iraq war 'irresponsible'; critics disagree". It has 22 paragraphs, 18 of which are devoted to direct or indirect quotations. By the latter I mean things that could have been replaced with a quotation, like "Bush said the war's critics should stop questioning the motives that led him to launch the invasion of Iraq in March 2003." It doesn't get any shallower than this.

The journalists say their readers can judge for themselves who is lying and who is wrong. And that the story is all there if you read between the lines. To my mind, this is completely irresponsible. The first-drafters of history are selecting information and weaving narratives; maybe they congratulate themselves on their subtlety.

But they are the public's paid summarizers, and they aren't doing their jobs. You have to go to editorial and partisan and advocacy viewpoints just to get to truth-telling above reproach. It ticks me off that these news organizations are not willing to put their credibility on the line to tell the truth.

Anyway, I wouldn't be writing this if I hadn't noticed an odd juxtaposition that is like reading between the lines. It involves one of the four non-quotation paragraphs in the article, and an apparent non-sequitur.

[Bush] said that when soldiers in a battle zone heard politicians questioning their mission, "it hurts their morale."

In a new surge in violence, 120 Iraqis have been killed in suicide bombings in the last week in Karbala and Ramadi, and 29 were killed in an attack in Baghdad on Monday, Associated Press reported. Since the Dec. 15 elections, 498 Iraqis and 54 Americans have been killed.

Get it? The second paragraph follows the first because it responds to the first paragraph. After all, if politicians criticizing the President hurts your morale, just imagine what getting killed a lot does for it.

The rest of the article is about Bush-said and Democrats-said; but the important thing is Reality-said. And it was a doozy, right? That's how you read between the lines and find out the truth, on Paragraphs 17 and 18.

This completes the initiation into the Hermeneutic Order of Newspaper Reading, Guardians of the Public Mysteries, Keepers of the Purple Shaft. See you tomorrow, in between Paragraphs 15 and 20.

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