The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, April 30, 2004

That damned liberal media filter-ing Bush's flubs

As I mentioned before (April 15), the Supreme Court in the Jeffrey Masson case gave American journalists considerable leeway in tweaking the actual words used before putting them between quotation marks.

And one standard practice, in reporting statements by non-native speakers of English, and the pig-ignorant, is to correct their syntax, mispronunciations and assorted linguistic snafus. A faithful rendering, say, of the words of a practitioner of 'ebonics' would lead to conniptions amongst the grievance-prone.

President Bush is doubly an Ivy League man; yet he gets exactly the same indulgence from the press [1].

The Chicago Tribune ombud Don Wycliff illustrates (April 29) with Bush's performance in front of the American Society of Newspaper Editors last week:
If the press were not protecting Bush, you'd have read in your Chicago Tribune--or Washington Post or New York Times or Wall Street Journal or USA Today--that he delivered one of the most confusing, inarticulate public addresses since ... well, some people would say since his press conference a week earlier.

Instead, these fine organs either ignored the performance, or picked the least moronic parts, and prettified them
because the reporters, trained to seek meaning and the meaningful in any utterance by the president, focused on what could be understood.

A whole bunch of What the President meant to say was...

The guy quotes correspondence with a reader who objected to the Tribune 'interpreting' as malfeasance Bush's use of a word sounding like misfeance. He'd written back supporting the substitution:
I have always felt that transmitting meaning is paramount...

But also one has the reflex genuflection of the US media to power and status - and objective journalism. The President is Head of State - and respect to the office demands that he cannot be reported as a fumbling fool, even if that's the way he sounds.

It takes us one level on from the press' stenographic reporting of Joseph McCarthy's inconsistent formulations of subversives in the State Department back in February 1950: at least, McCarthy didn't put the stenographers to the trouble of rewriting his copy to make (literal) sense of it!

Perhaps it's on the same plane as the continual lie-by-omission perpetrated by the press in denying throughout his presidency that Franklin Roosevelt was a cripple.

Except that, with Bush, the Great Unwashed have had their noses rubbed in the evidence of his inarticulacy on prime-time TV. Not often, but often enough for the fact to be no secret. And the effect of this evidence appears to be underwhelming.

It must be case of mind over matter: the western equivalent of the Indian Rope Trick. A president must be presidential, and wishing will make it so.

But is articulacy actually prized as an American virtue? The frontiersman, the cowboy, the homesteader - these icons are not noted for their gift of the gab. Politicians, certainly, are expected to be slick: but the President of the United States is more than a politician. He represents the country, an icon pro tempore himself.

And, of course, it taps the idea of the hostility of ordinary folks towards intellectuals. As, of course, the rough-and-ready Joe McCarthy did when he attacked those intellectuals - Communists, homosexuals and other deviants - in the State Department [2]. Book-learning felt as fundamentally un-American.

(Of course, these feelings themselves - embarrassing as they are to the ear - necessarily have to remain unarticulated!)

  1. TV, the more impactful and popular medium, is limited in the clean-up it can do. But somehow, the evidence of their own eyes fails to persuade a lot of viewers.

  2. These days, State is a hotbed of Arabists and apologists for the Axis of Weasels...


For the Arabist tendencies at State - railed against by Newt Gingrich, etc, - work back from the May 16 2003 piece.

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