Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Passive aggression


Time to take a bit of a break from transit issues, and engage in a bit of media criticism.  Criticizing the mainstream media is a lot like fishing out of a stocked pond, or throwing paint on the wall--you're bound to hit something.  And criticizing CNN is particularly easy--but here goes anyhoo.

On the frontpage of, in the "politics" section, is generally found a pointer to CNN's political ticker,a blog covering US politics.  An article posted today thereon is entitled TRENDING: Dems call Miller an 'extremist', referring to cricitism of Alaska GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller, who may (pending the tally of absentee voters) have upset incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski.  Miller has some pretty far-out positions (if he wins, he will likely displace Nevada's Sharron Angle as the looniest Senatorial candidate to win a primary this election cycle)--rest assured that I'm no supporter of Miller, and would tend to agree with his critics in the Democratic Party.

But on the headline page, pointing to the article, we find this:  Ticker: GOPer called an 'extremist'

Notice the difference?

In the teaser headline, CNN uses the passive voice to exclude a very important piece of information, which would take the entire space of one word to convey:  just who made the accusation in question.  Given that the accusation comes from the political opposition, it's not altogether remarkable--but the phrasing of the teaser makes it appear that some neutral, authoritative party has pronounced judgment.

CNN does this all the time.  In this case, the victim is a conservative Republican, but Democrats (including President Obama) also receive this sort of passive aggression on a regular basis.  Countless times I've seen headlines like "Obama said to be in over his head", only to find out it's Sarah Palin or some other GOP partisan doing the saying.  Who cares?

But I guess--that's the point.  If the teaser had the same headline as the actual blog article, many folks wouldn't bother to click through.  OTOH, if and when they do click through--it's like the disappointment of Ralphie Parker when he finally got that Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, and discovered that the "secret message" from Annie was nothing more than an Ovaltine advertisement.



  1. No more Murrows out there, Scotty. I think Bill Moyers was the last of our (semi-mainstream) greats. And I'm still somewhat suspicious that they rode him out of town on a rail (to bring it back to transit, heh)...

    Careful there paying too much heed to the mainstream media these days. You'll shoot your eye out, kid.


  2. Its a shame CNN has declined so much, it used to be quality, classy and professional. Now its turned into such a trashy tabloid channel that hypes up minor "news" stories that turn out to be absolutely nothing.

    I've found PBS News Hour to be the only quality professional news remaining.

  3. After some consideration... I almost regret this posting. Not that it's inaccurate (it's not), but it's a bit like the police officer who strolls down the street, ignoring a drug deal on the corner, ignoring masked guys running out of a bank carrying moneybags, and ignoring a bloody corpse lying on the sidewalk--only to ticket the first jaywalker he sees.

    In other words, this particular bad habit is small potatoes compared to much of what goes on in modern mainstream journalism.


Keep it clean, please