Journalism pet peeves, part 1

Anthropomorphizing large institutions

This is something you see all the time. Here is an example I found at random just now from the lede of an article in Business Week (emphasis mine):

U.S. envoy George Mitchell returns to mediate a second round of Middle East talks this week after Israel said it is through making gestures and a Palestinian negotiator said he’s ready for the “endgame.”

The problem here is that Israel doesn’t really say anything. Israel’s a country. Like any country, it has political leaders. They’re the ones who say things. They have names. They have titles. All of these things can be reported instead of pretending that tens of millions of people within an artificial border are just shouting one thing in unison.

In fact, Business Week seems to have discovered who they were quoting in the next sentence. But what’s the point of burying that information?

You hardly ever see reporters (real reporters, that is) talking about what “America says” and what “America wants.” You only see that sort of thing coming from snake oil-selling  hucksters who want to identify their own political ideology with all 300+ million of us living here in the US. If real reporters framed issues in that way, we’d all be insulted. How dare they pretend that America is some rigid monolith where everyone has the same opinion?

But on the other hand, those same reporters have no problem telling you what Saudi Arabia said or what China said or what South Korea asked China, to which Russia responded (trifecta in that link). It’s insanity. Either you know who actually did the saying and asking – in which case you should report more specific information, or you don’t – in which case you need to do more research before publishing.

So this problem is probably due to pure laziness and a cheap appeal to the audience’s need for a superficial narrative with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ It’s easy to support policies like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when countries are personified instead of represented as they actually are. Who would you rather bomb: 100 million Mahmoud Ahmadinejads, or 100 million people ruled by someone like him who all have their own wildly varying views on politics, religion, science, and culture?

And speaking of Ahmadinejad, he’s appealing to the same kind of over-generalized, blanket view of Americans in that government’s treatment of the hikers who accidentally crossed the Iraq/Iran border and are now being held without charges on suspicion of ‘espionage.’ These are three lefty kids from Berkeley who went to Iraq to study Middle Eastern culture. But Ahmadinejad seems to think they’re tools of the Pentagon because, hey, they’re Americans.

So even if you’re not moved by the need to get rid of this idea of national persons in our media for the sake of accuracy in reporting or for the sake of internationalism, you’d at least have to admit that this same kind of propaganda weapon can just as easily be turned against us here. And when that happens, things can get very ugly.

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One Response to “Journalism pet peeves, part 1”

  1. Paul Neuser Says:

    Just watched the battle between Cro Cop and Mir, sorry but it was the bad battle ever zzzzzzzzz

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