This is an introductory installment of a series that will examine the crafty use of language in the political propaganda on the most important issues of our day and the news media's coverage of the public debate.
Language is one of the richest forms of expression we have. Like any form of art, it can paint a picture as nearly true as an actual unretouched photo or one as incomprehensibly abstract as a Jackson Pollock.
The explosion of media outlets in the Internet Age has enriched our use of language in the most crafty ways. At the same time, the pace of the news cycle has loosened once sacrosanct fact checks and editorial balances. Just as television reduced the news cycle from 24 hours to 6, and the Internet reduced it to hourly, Twitter is rapidly compressing it even further, to the minute. The cacophony of messages is deafening, with even the most vaunted media outlets reduced to "reporting the reporting" in an endless, "He said, she said and that's all we have time to say."
Instead of reporters and editors confirming sources and analyzing the information to parse fact from innuendo and conjecture -- which takes time -- they seem to be giving up the ghost of old journalism rules. The public is therefore left to fend for itself when it comes to wading through the muck of propaganda, forced to rely on the (questionably reliable, mostly partisan) Blogosphere and Twitter to determine what is truth.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of Blogs and of micro-blogs like Twitter. Duh! 'Nuff said [sic]. However, I am deeply concerned that the rules of engagement have been irresponsibly relaxed under the pressure to compete for the scoops, exclusives and gotcha-quotes-of-the-day, which media use as a key marketing tool to earn an audience and therefore advertisers.
It seems that our "news" is little more than lightly filtered information. Whatever falls into the daily colander gets rinsed clean, packaged into a branded format and regurgitated to a hungry audience. This predominates on cable television news but is occurring with increasing frequency in the content of broadcast network news, radio news and -- worse -- the few newspapers that remain.
Try this at home: How many times in the span of a broadcast or on a printed page does your news provider cite another news outlet's coverage of a topic? Or, how many times does the talking head say, "according to X organization" without any further substantiation for what is being presented, much less offer an opposing source or suggest that certain questions remain on the matter. Don't get me started on the dearth of follow-up questions! As a corporate communications strategist I can spot a pre-packaged video news release in a New York second, and I can tell you they are used now more than ever.
It's pure laziness. Imagine if your child came home and tattletaled on another kid or a sibling. Do you take what he says as pure fact? Or do you ask him a few probing questions and then, depending on the seriousness of the matter, consult with another parent?
Over the next few installments, this column will explore how the news organizations are repeating the propagandist terms like "Apology," "Socialism," "Racism," "Election fraud," etc. and therefore limiting and unfairly coloring public debate. Oh, and before anyone gets on a high horse, I'll be giving equal scrutiny to some lefty wing nut exploitation, too. Stay tuned.