Friday, January 12, 2007

The MSM and the not-so-subtle art of writing the lede

I could probably spend all my time on this blog just analyzing the myriad variations on one theme: how the MSM skews the news by editorializing when it should just be reporting.

Sometimes it's done overtly. Far more often, though, it's a relatively subtle use of language and--if you'll forgive the expression--nuance. But once you know where/how to look--well then, like Chickenman, it's everywhere, it's everywhere (those who were anywhere near Chicago and a radio in the late 60s know what I'm referring to by that phrase).

Here's today's example from the NY Times: an article about Tony Blair (the first one I looked at when I clicked on their website) entitled "Blair Urges Europe to Stay Aggressive Abroad." The headline is actually one of the better ones (although I'd prefer the substitution of the words "vigilant" or "militarily prepared" for "aggressive").

It's the lede that's so "interesting." Here it is:

As he seeks to define his legacy and stamp his imprint on the future, Prime Minister Tony Blair urged his successors today to maintain the warlike foreign policy that he promoted, sending troops into battle in Africa and the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

An excellent example of the approach the media has used for some years now, what I'll call the "what's in it for me?" outlook. A prime minister or president is always regarded as a self-serving, narcissistic politician rather than a statesman (is this word even in the vocabulary of the MSM any more?).

Of course, politicians do tend to be narcissists, and concerned with their own images. It goes with the territory. But to report, in a straight news article, on a speech by Blair about the central defining worldwide issue of our times--the current war against Islamist totalitarianism--as though Blair's primary concern is his himself and his legacy (oh, how I've grown to hate that word!) is a profoundly cynical and destructive way of looking at things.

It would be different if the article were actually about Blair's self-aggrandizement, or offered any evidence of it. That would at least explain the focus of the lede. But it isn't; it's a straight news article, or purports to be. And there isn't even a hint of any support for the premise of self-concern, at least in the body of the article. On the contrary; Blair's speech is a serious one that focuses on the need for Britain to maintain the ability to fight against the threats that face it today.

Does this sound like the speech of a guy obsessed with himself?:

The frontiers of our security no longer stop at the Channel. What happens in the Middle East affects us. What happens in Pakistan, or Indonesia, or in the attenuated struggles for territory and supremacy in Africa for example, in Sudan or Somalia--the new frontiers for our security are global...It has taken a generation for the enemy to grow. It will, in all probability, take a generation to defeat.

Sounds like a reasonable assessment of a sobering situation, by a man concerned with the future, yes--the future of his country, Western civilization, and the world.

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