Setting the Record Straight

September 13, 2008

Sarah Ain’t Seen Nuttin’ Yet

How the Media Could Get Tough

     News being not what it is misconstrued to be, but rather what it is—that which is new or unusual—the American Idol wannabe Republicans are running for vice president will soon face the usual close examination and exposure by the legitimate news media.

     It is no surprise that Barack Obama came to be such a big story and it is no more of a surprise his star faded a bit and Sarah Palin became the big story. All stories have a short shelf life in the legitimate news business. Have you noticed you don’t hear much about Joe Biden? He’s still campaigning and speaking, but the news has been elsewhere.

     No doubt, before Nov. 4, something or somebody else will grab the headlines. One of the first ones, we suspect is the small crowds John McCain gets versus those of Palin if they ever part company on the campaign trail.

     Whoever is in the spotlight long enough should expect some good, hard questioning by the legitimate news media (we define that as the traditional media that includes daily newspapers, news magazines and national television networks and not the other crap flying by). Here is a primer on how hard the legitimate media can be but usually is not.

     Some conservatives who idolize Sarah Palin already are crying foul about the way she is questioned by the media.
     If the legitimate parts of the news media behaved as the John McCain campaign has, she would be devastated and made to look the biggest fool ever to step onto a political platform.
     Based on the first transcripts from the ABC interview with her, we suggest ways the she could have been made to look silly.
     The interviewer noted McCain’s reference to her foreign and national security credentials as stemming from heading a state close to Russia and commanding the state’s National Guard.
Palin avoided the question and a follow-up. Instead of insisting on a response, the interviewer moved on to another question.
     Later, the interviewer returned to the proximity to Russia as credentials for an Alaskan governor to be discussing Russia’s invasion of Georgia.
Palin: “They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.”
     The interviewer did his job and said, “What insight does that give you into what they’re doing in Georgia?” Then he let her dodge it and get off the hook. He could have pressed on, making her look the fool the assertion represents.
     Remember when junk telephone calls were the norm? The callers read from a prepared script and most were easily flummoxed if you interrupted them to ask a question or say something irrelevant to the subject. Palin’s answers to predictable questions had the appearance of being scripted.
     Palin: “What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against.”
     The interviewer, even letting the bad syntax slide, could have asked: “Why do you smaller democratic countries, why not smaller countries in general. Are you saying it is okay for a larger power, such as the United States, to invade any smaller country it wants to as long as the smaller country isn’t democratic?”
     Other than by providing a transcript, tough exchanges in print are hard to use to illustrate a lack of knowledge.
     A newspaper tired of a sleazy councilman’s constant accusations he was misquoted. The newspaper decided to get even and ordered reporters to quote him verbatim and not fix his grammar and syntax. He ended up looking like a fool, as most people would if you put their words on paper exactly as spoken.

     In the Palin example, she has the careless all but the most genteel among us are prone to do, dropping the “g” on our gerunds. The more you do it, the less sophisticated you sound. In print, it makes you look like one of the American Hillbillies.
     Print reporters and editors usually edit quotes to make them more understandable, and that usually means repairing grammar and syntax. Unfortunately, speakers believe they spoke more eloquently than they actually did, so they rarely appreciate the fixes.



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