Monday, March 28, 2011

Bad News: Pushy Personation

 Another choice example of journalistic Personation (as discussed in Seeing Greene’s Feb. 18 installment) has turned up.  This one is noteworthy on account of its psycho-political use.
BERLIN (AP)—Germany is determined to show the world how abandoning nuclear energy can be done. 
    The world’s fourth largest economy stands alone among leading industrialized nations in its decisions to stop using nuclear energy because of its inherent risks.  It is betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energy to meet power demands instead. 
   The transition was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but is now being accelerated in the wake of Japan’s …nuclear plant disaster….
    Berlin’s decision to take seven of its 17 reactors offline for three months for new safety checks has provided a glimpse into how Germany might wean itself from getting nearly a quarter of its power from atomic energy to none.

The author of that piece of news discourse endows a nation-state (plus its capital) with a mind, (a determination, a decision) plus a capacity to wean itself and to lay a bet.  Joined to that metaphysically bold bit of rhetorical Personation is a flight of Presumptuousness, whereby the author pretends to disclose, and thereby pretends to be able to detect, mental states (of, in this case, a nation, which also is an economy). 
     Moreover, on this occasion the author wields Personation and Presumptuousness on behalf of advocacy.  By aggrandizing the breadth of an attitude, (s)he glorifies it.  In doing so, (s)he employs a variant on what rhetoricians call The Bandwagon Device, or promoting an attitude by endowing it with wide popularity.
     The case may also be noteworthy on account of other elements of the article. Apropos of that “decision to stop using nuclear energy,” the author refers to a decision made by a previous “center-left government” to phase out nuclear power use by the year 2021.  The present German government “amended” that decision “to extend the plants’ lifetime by an average of 12 years.”  The amendment then “was put on hold after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami compromised nuclear power plants in Japan.”  So: where is that determination by “Germany” to demonstrate “how abandoning nuclear energy can be done”? 
     A reader who chooses to be anonymous professes to “find it disrespectful” that in Seeing Greene (March 4th) we “published the name of the bridge jumper.”  “NO OTHER publication published his name within an article about the bridge.   Yes, there was an obituary published, but it of course did not mention he was the jumper.”
     Mr or Ms Anonymous is factually correct.  We alone identified the suicide as Christopher Hare.  Obituaries devoted to Mr Hare were published shortly after the fatal jump but (like most locally published obituaries) did not name the cause of death.
     Our practice in this case was consistent with common practice.  News stories about suicides generally do identify the principals.  Sometimes identification is delayed, as when authorities withhold the information pending notification of next of kin. Sometimes identification does not occur.  Sometimes identification does not occur  because local journalists do not bother to follow up (or “chase the story,” in journo parlance).  
     In the meantime, Anonymous offers an instructive case of spurious humility. (S)he voices a personal attitude (“I find it disrespectful…”) in a way that suggests that it is the Correct attitude.  And (s)he skips the business of indicating how, and to whom, publishing a suicide’s name is disrespectful.
    (BTW:  Anonymous also says that we “also published wrong information as [the jumper] DID NOT DRIVE a vehicle to the bridge. Please remove WRONG information.”)

     The headline “U.S., Allies Attack Libya” (Daily Freeman, 3/20/11) differs from  what has been reported elsewhere in the news media, and it falsifies the text of the story that it introduces.  The headline makes Libya the target of American and allied attack.  Other contemporary news sources depicted the attackers' target not as Libya but as pro-government or pro-Gadhafi Libyan forces that are attacking anti-government Libyan forces.  And that version of events is voiced in the text of the Associated Press story that appeared under that headline:
     The U.S. and European nations pounded Moammar Gadhafi’s forces and air defenses with cruise missiles and airstrikes on Saturday, launching the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war in support of an uprising that had seemed on the verge of defeat.
The misleading headline in this case may be a bit less interesting, to be sure, than these cases:

 Astronaut Welcomes Baby From Space

Craigslist Killing 
Suspects in Tacoma Court

Man Seeking Help for Dog
Charged with DWI


TV Pilots Shot in R.I. Await Word of Fate

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