Friday, April 15, 2005

Radical Lawmaker Bill Frist; Activist Judge Antonin Scalia

The adverbial phrases in front of both of those names fit, right?

Ted Rall is a mind reader. He must be, because he and I are on a very close karmatic wavelength. Either that, or he's stealing my intellectual property.

Nah, that would never happen on the web.

Anyway, earlier this week, Rall published a column that dissects the demonization and marginalization of people / places / things by the use of modifiers and adverbs in news stories. Without paying direct homage to Frank Luntz, he at least acknowledges the impact that the paid spinners have on news writers turing a journalistic phrase. See if this rings a bell:

... Labeling bias works to marginalize political outsiders while powerful elites receive their full honorifics. Howard Dean was antiwar firebrand Howard Dean but George W. Bush was never referred to as pro-war crusader George W. Bush. The press calls the founder of the Moral Majority "the Reverend Jerry Falwell," not "radical cleric Jerry Falwell." Even the word "cleric" implies foreignness to a xenophobic public; American religious leaders are the more familiar "ministers" rather than clerics. Instead of telling readers and viewers what to think with cheesy labels, why not let public figures' quotes and actions speak for themselves? Besides, well-known players like al-Sadr and Falwell don't require an introduction.

Loaded labels are commonly used to influence the public's feelings about groups of people as well as individuals. Under Ronald Reagan the Afghan mujahedeen, who received CIA funding and weapons that they used to fight Soviet occupation forces, were called "freedom fighters." Iraqis who take up arms against U.S. occupation troops, on the other hand, are called "insurgents," a word that implies rebellion for its own sake. This was the same term used by the New York Times and other mainstream media to refer to anti-U.S. fighters in Vietnam during the 1960s. Only later, when the Vietnam War became unpopular, did American newspapers begin calling the former "insurgents" members of an infinitely more patriotic-sounding "resistance...

While Rall is a wee bit behind the curve with this column, he hits the bullseye.

(Thanks to one of our Zonebots, Eric, for the pointer to Rall's article.)