October 07, 2003

Reporting the Rhetoric

Andrew Cline, a former reporter turned academic who regularly polices the intersection of journalism and politics, says journalists are constantly bamboozled by slick-talking politicos because they fail to see through the rhetoric. He writes:

Journalists could report persuasive tactics as verifiable events if they knew how. Instead, they rely on partisan pundits to tell them what it all means. And the result is their reporting does more to transmit propaganda than to interrupt or challenge it.

Cline is commenting on a piece in the American Journalism Review that questions whether the press could have better informed the citizenry about reasons for and the aftermath of the war in Iraq.

Even though Cline uses the words "pathos and enthymemes," you should read the rest, as well as his excellent backgrounder on the structural biases of journalism.

Posted by Tim Porter at October 7, 2003 08:40 AM

Stephen Hess is right. People don't really read or really listen. They skim with both their eyes and their ears. They don't take in the real content in the news. They are too self absorbed, self-centered, too on-overload with their kids' next soccer game, or football, or Elsie's recent affair, or Oprah or Jerry or Howard and all the reality shows.
Clearly this is so as recent news will demonstrate. Hello out there. Arnold admires (some aspects of) Hitler. Hello, hello, hello....is anyone listening?

Posted by: d rabin on October 7, 2003 09:10 AM

Tim, thanks for the link! "Bamboozled" isn't quite what I meant, but understand your interpretation.

I don't think the press was so much bamboozled as it was hamstrung (there’s quibbling for you! haha!) by the professional ethic of so-called "objectivity." To analyze a speech seems too much like interpretation, i.e. giving an opinion in a news story.

What I would like to encourage is a deeper knowledge of language use among journalists so that they see political rhetoric as a verifiable, reportable event that may be handled fairly and accurately within a news article.

For example, I think it is a reportable event that Americans understood any reference to "terrorist" or "terrorism" during that speech to refer specifically to 9/11. Bush was taking advantage of that context. He didn't have say specifically that Iraq was involved. The context of the word and the pathos and enthymemes of the speech took care of that for him.

I'm contending that saying so would have been well within the bounds of reporting, not punditry.

Posted by: acline on October 7, 2003 09:47 AM

The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.
-- Oscar Wilde

Posted by: Jozef on October 7, 2003 04:18 PM
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