Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: According to Script
Posted on 03/29/2005 6:40:49 AM PST by Constitution Day
happy warrior MARK STEYN According to Script
According to Script
The other day, as their latest contribution to the death spiral of American journalism, the Associated Press announced that they would now be supplying newspapers across the country with alternative versions of important stories in order, as they put it, to enhance the value of the AP news report to your newspaper.
The concept is simple, the AP explained in a memo to newspaper editors. On major spot stories especially when events happen early in the day we will provide you with two versions to choose between. One will be the traditional straight lead that leads with the main facts of what took place. The other will be the optional, an alternative approach that attempts to draw in the reader through imagery, narrative devices, perspective or other creative means.
Imagery, narrative devices . . . Who can argue with that? Big important second-semester creative-writing-course stuff. Cant get enough of it myself. If Id been more on the ball, Id have opened this column with a bit of specific gripping imagery myself. (Note: If youre reading the enhanced value version of Happy Warrior that runs in the Pocatello Times-Indicator-Courier-Union-Picayune-Whig-Leader, the gripping imagery may well have been inserted by the helpful editors.)
Anyway, the AP offered a sample of the alternative versions it would be providing. Heres the traditional:
MOSUL, Iraq (AP) A suicide attacker set off a bomb that tore through a funeral tent jammed with Shiite mourners Thursday, splattering blood and body parts over rows of overturned white plastic chairs. The attack, which killed 47 and wounded more than 100, came as Shiite and Kurdish politicians in Baghdad said they overcame a major stumbling block to forming a new coalition government.
Heres the optional:
MOSUL, Iraq (AP) Yet again, almost as if scripted, a day of hope for a new, democratic Iraq turned into a day of tears as a bloody insurgent attack undercut a political step forward. On Thursday, just as Shiite and Kurdish politicians in Baghdad were telling reporters that they overcame a major stumbling block to forming a new coalition government, a suicide attacker set off a bomb that tore through a funeral tent . . . Etc.
Wow. Day of hope turning into day of tears. I havent seen that kind of sparkling prose since Barbra Streisand stood up at that big pre-Iraq Democratic-party gala and solemnly regaled the party bigshots with that Internet-hoax Julius Caesar soliloquy about the drums of war being whipped into the fever-pitch of a double-edged sword. Whoever wrote that should be manning the Fresh Vivid Imagery desk at the Associated Press.
But in the midst of that unreadable sludge of clichés, the APs desert bard came up with one unreadable sludgy cliché that gets the gist of their Iraq coverage better than anything: almost as if scripted. Isnt that precisely the problem? It is pre-scripted. The good folk of Basra and Kirkuk dont spring out of bed each morning saying, Ah, another day of hope, only to trudge off to dreamland 16 hours later wondering why yet again the day of hope turned into a day of tears, daring to sing yet another chorus of The Sunll Come Out Tomorrow but knowing deep down chances are the Sunnill come out tomorrow and blow up the schoolhouse.
As we learned on election day in January, that doomy drivel is imposed on the Iraqi people by the medias pre-scripters. And once the fellows holed up in the Green Zone hotels decided that the war was yet another Vietnam remake, everyone else got the hang of the formula pretty quickly. The old Baath-party translators the foreign press still use quickly learned to lead reporters by the nose to some whiny clerk from the Ministry of Fingernail Pullers and Genital Severers moaning about how hed been laid off. The insurgents got the hang of staging their photo-ops on Eastern Standard Time, setting some secondhand Nissan alight each morning Baghdad time so that its plume of smoke could be conveniently filmed from the press-hotel balcony in time for The Today Show and Good Morning America. Days of hope turned into days of tears as regular as clockwork.
And in between their Bridges-of-Madison-County imagery and Horse-Whisperer narrative devices, the Western media somehow managed to lose the story functioning municipal government in the south, booming tourism in the north, normality and progress in three-quarters of the country. The insurgent-of-the-day approach to Iraq didnt even capture that element correctly: On the second anniversary of the invasion, Agence France-Presse ran a story remarkably like the APs hypothetical specimen. The headline: 45 Killed In Insurgent Attacks.
The lead paragraph: At least 45 people have been killed in insurgent attacks across Iraq as Washington defended its decision to go to war on the second anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion.
It took an Australian blogger, Arthur Chrenkoff, to poke deep down into the story and emerge with the most salient fact of this bloody toll that of the 45 dead, 29 were insurgents themselves. Terrorism is supposed to be one guy indiscriminately killing large numbers of the other side. No terrorist network can survive long if its losing two of its own men for every one of the enemy. Thats the story: a day of hope turned into yet another day of tears for the insurgents.
With a few honorable exceptions, Iraq coverage has been a truly spectacular failure. One day in the future, well dig out the yellowing clips and wonder how America managed to lose every daily battle and yet still win the war.
Different day of tears.
Thanks for bring in Mark Steyn's article, CD!
They offer two versions of the truth? One is real, the other is a painted lady........
You know, I thought the same thing. At first, I thought this piece was some kind of satire. It seemed too bizarre to be real. Mark Steyn had another column once (it's in his book, that's where I read it) about the preference of reporters to "ponder" rather than report the facts. I recall him ascribing a lot of shoddy journalism to the reluctance of reporters to "get their shoes a little dirty" and actually seek out facts; they'd rather have a little bit of facts and then endlessly ponder their "meaning." He actually came out in a somewhat spirited defense of tabloid journalism. It's a very good column. I think he really has a solid take on the failings of mainstream journalism today.
Yet another example why the MSM simply does not mean anything anymore. This kind of nonsense makes you wonder exactly how much of their audisnce they have to lose before they make some effort to save themselves from total irrelevance. Or perhaps the economics of no viewers will do it for them as CBS News is learning.
Mark is good :)
Just a ping. I am going to use this against a guy who worships the AP.
I'd like to see three versions. A liberal one, a conservative one, and a neutral one.
Let them squirm trying to make the one they claim is neutral different from the liberal one.
Would make a good journalism school assignment, huh?
I tuned out the Iraq coverage a long time ago. I figured about one out of a hundred stories made any attempt to be accurate, the rest were just contrived background for the New York Times editorial page.
Steyn slices and dices.
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