Tag Archives: media
Hy-per-bol-e (n) A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect. [FD]
Hyperbole is handy in conversation and public speaking, I can tell you that I am so tired I could sleep for a week. Well, no I can’t really do that, but you’ll get the message and I don’t have to tell you how much or how little sleep I’ve had in the past 48 hours. I can offer an opinion that you packed too many clothes for a week’s vacation by saying this suitcase weighs a ton. OK, it doesn’t…it’s just inconveniently heavy. Hyperbole can be a useful shorthand, but it should come with some cautionary stickers attached.
Hyperbole can distort conversation and discussion. Suppose our hypothetical Senator Sludgepump has voted to eliminate the Food and Drug Administration, to abolish the Federal Reserve, to allow 10 year old children to work in coal mines, and to let the FBI investigate the records of public libraries. This record isn’t going to endear him to me. However, if I were to describe him as The Worst Congressman Since Preston Brooks does my hyperbole obfuscate my more serious point — that a person who supports egregious labor practices and encourages the endangerment of personal privacy isn’t someone I would recommend, and that his philosophy is detrimental to good governance? It does, especially if we start comparing Sludgepump to Brooks, or to Harding’s Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall and lose sight of the policy issues involved. * See some excellent nominees in the comments section!
Hyperbole tends to dramatize issues beyond their rational level of importance. Conservatives are beginning to suffer some ridicule for their espousal of the notion that the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi is a huge issue. [RMM audio] One of the obvious problems with hyperbole in political discussion is that as in the situation above, comparisons are required, and even if the conversation doesn’t get bogged down in comparative issues of little utility we still have to slog through historical references and evaluations which may (and often may not) have much historical relevance. Was the attack one of the worst incidents I can recall? (former vice president Cheney)
The next logical step would be to find out what other items might be contained on that Worst Ever list? Again, instead of discussing the issues related to diplomatic security, the conversation is shifted to comparative analyses of attacks on U.S. missions in the modern era. [List since 1958]
Hyperbole imposes the use of inappropriate superlatives. Rhetorical shorthand which distorts or dramatizes issues and events nearly always relies on terms like Best, Worst, Greatest, Most, etc. No, the Affordable Care Act probably isn’t the best law ever enacted, nor is it likely the worst. Superlatives ought to send up flags that what we are hearing is someone’s opinion. If something surpasses or is alleged to be superior to all other items in a category of things, we are in opinion territory. A person may hold that the Supreme Court decision in Marbury v. Madison was among the best ever rendered by that institution, others have argued that it significantly altered the course of U.S. history, and not in a good way. Opinion should be noticed for what it is — opinion, not necessarily demonstrable fact.
Hyperbole may be useful for directing attention, but not for responsible discourse. Hyperbole makes an excellent tease for cable news outlets, especially those seeking to prevent viewers from channel surfing during commercial breaks. “Will Senator Sludgepump lose his seat??” teases the broadcaster, “stay tuned for our next segment…” The next segment all too often pulls the curtain up revealing the hyperbole. Sludgepump, it is revealed, has no credible opposition, holds a 52% favorable rating in his state, and has the backing of key donors.
Hyperbole also makes for some “high” drama during the Dueling Political Strategists’ segment of most cable offerings. “The Dog Food Ingredient Bill is the worst form of government over-reach imaginable,” squeals one of the participants. Meanwhile the opponent is eye-rolling and over-talking, repeating the mantra “But think of the valued family pets and distraught children…” Neither one in this hypothetical is making much sense.
Would not a better format be to discuss how much information is needed by consumers in order to make judicious selections at the supermarket? Must all ingredients be specified, or should consumers merely be informed of all ingredients? Should some potentially dangerous ingredients be banned? Should some ingredients be preferred over others? Consumers might find this discussion more informative than a debate about whether Senator Sludgepump will face backlash at the polls over his support of or opposition to the Dog Food Ingredients Bill. There’s at least one more reason to be careful with hyperbole.
There are people who will believe hyperbole in the face of all evidence to the contrary. A young man walked into a terminal at LAX last week, with a Smith and Wesson M&P 15, caliber .556 purchased in Van Nuys. He used it to shoot TSA employees:
“The gunman was carrying a signed, handwritten note in his duffel bag that said he wanted to “instill fear into their traitorous minds,” said David Bowdich, special agent in charge of the Counterterrorism Division in the FBI‘s Los Angeles office.
“His intent was very clear in his note,” Bowdich told reporters Saturday. “In that note he indicated his anger and his malice toward the TSA officers.” [LAT]
Relatives weren’t sure where he got the ideas. I think we can make some intelligent conjectures, most of which will have something to do with right wing hyperbole. Unfortunately, they might also connect to the hyperbole that drove Timothy McVeigh, Anders Behring Breivik, James Adkisson, Richard Poplawski, and James W. von Brunn to assault their fellow human beings.
Hyperbole is a rhetorical device, our responsibility is to exercise enough restraint so that it doesn’t inform the actions of those who decide to transform rhetoric into horrific reality.
Updated: with corrections on 11/07/13
“So far, no American bombs have been dropped on Syria, not one American soldier has died in fighting there, and no Syrian civilians have been killed by U.S. forces. But that hasn’t stopped the chattering class from eviscerating Obama, often with a mocking and condescending tone. Deeply invested in the Obama’s-stumbling storyline that was attached to the president’s initial call for bombing strikes, pundits and reporters failed (or refused) to adjust as the facts shifted and the crisis steered toward a diplomatic resolution.
The Syria coverage represents a clear case of the press adopting style over substance, as well as channeling Republican spin. Of treating foreign policy as if it were a domestic political campaign and insisting that a story unfolding half-a-world away was really all about Obama and how it affected (and/or damaged) his political fortunes. It was also coverage that often lacked nuance and context, and that refused to allow diplomatic events unfold without minute-by-minute surveys of the domestic winners and losers.” [MMFA]
And therein lies the problem — the situation with regard to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons isn’t essentially part of a domestic political campaign — it IS a foreign policy issue.
Those who wanted background information and now seek to keep up with the current negotiations are better served by visiting the BBC Syria Profile, KQED prvides “Six Excellent Resources,” on the Syrian situation — no Washington pundits included.
Consider the current conflict between the House Republicans and the threat to shut down the federal government. There is some excellent background information available — just don’t wait to hear about it from the Beltway Press. Better background information is available from the Congressional Research Service, which published “CRS Report for Congress Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects,” August 2013. (pdf) The CRS also created a report, “Government Shutdown: Operations of the Department of Defense During a Lapse in Appropriations,” in April 2011. (pdf) Looking at the 2011 budget battle/shutdown threat, Business Week compiled, “How a Federal Shutdown Could Affect Americans,” in February 2011.
One of the more depressing aspects of this coverage is that some of the major news outlets have, in fact, published summarized information pieces about the economic impacts of a government shutdown — to be evidently ignored by their own pundits. There was this prescient piece in the Atlantic, April 7, 2011. CNN Money published this guide on September 16, 2013.
However, the Chatterati persists in reporting the clash between the Democrats and the Republicans, and the Republicans and the Republicans as if the economic impacts of this brinkmanship were tangential. “Oh, by the way, if you want your question answered by a person in the USDA office — good luck. Or, if you want to find out about the status of your small business loan application — better be prepared to wait. Do you have a contract to provide goods or services to any agency of the federal government? Put that on hold please.”
But, but, but… sputter the talking heads on my TV screen… What about the impact on the 2014 elections? Having purchased the Horse Race Reportage template bit, bridle, halter, saddle, blanket and all, the pundits are trapped riding their only topic — election results.
“Well, yes, that does make things challenging. President Obama has to lead, but not too much, and not in a way that may make his rivals feel uncomfortable. He has to be hands-on and hands-off, preferably at the same time. He should use the so-called “bully pulpit,” but not in a way that connects the presidency to any specific issue Republicans may need to vote on.
And it’s against this backdrop that a few too many pundits wonder aloud why the president doesn’t overcome Republicans’ refusal to compromise by “leading” more. Many more suggested “schmoozing” would alleviate GOP intransigence.
But if Republicans are going to balk whether Obama engages or not, the advice seems misplaced.” [Benen]
The Chatterati persist in submerging foreign policy, economic issues, and social issues under the restrictive confines of “all things are politics” categorization. It’s tantamount to “keeping score when there’s no game.”
The Sin City Siren posts an article decrying the lack of quality reporting on LGBT issues in Nevada; what the heck… I’m going to go further. I’m going to expound on the possibility that the current media (some in print and more in broadcasting) isn’t all that informative and we’d probably be better off shutting off the TV and hustling down to the public library. The pontificators are becoming altogether entirely too predictable.
Sequacious Sycophants: Having never had an original thought in their adult lives, our Sequacious Sycophants are pleased to talk about, muse upon, and otherwise parrot the well prepared themes devised for them by their ideological masters and mistresses. From the right, having long ago decided that an African American, any African American, cannot approach the intellectual level of his or her White contemporaries, the President must be “bumbling, stumbling,” unable to function without a teleprompter, easily duped, and dependent upon the assistance of others. Pick a topic, almost any topic, and the Sequacious Sycophant is pleased to blather on about how the Administration is stumbling, bumbling, lurching,and grasping at policy issues. This, in observation of an Administration which has reversed the recession, revived the automobile industry, wound down actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, made better opportunities for equal pay for women it’s first legislative initiative, enacted the first major health insurance reform in decades, and is currently keeping the U.S. out of complete entanglement in the Syrian mess.
From the Left, having decided that former presidential candidate and current Senator John McCain is a “flip flopper,” a maneuver he performs well and often, not much else is required. All that appears to be essential is to find some video of the Senator saying one thing and then offering his latest verbiage on the subject. This is easy. Too easy. The least difficult posts I’ve ever written were the old “deck bass” flip flop pieces. One of the more strenuous was the post pointing out that McCain’s general bent is militaristic, it was laborious trying to find background information because few authors had attempted the lay the groundwork for this analysis.
Suggestion: Instead of listening to the Sequacious Sycophants, lope down to your public library and check out Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. While it may not be the “best ever” writing on diplomatic history before the Great War, it is one of the better ones, and should dispel any delusions that all diplomacy is necessarily rational or linear.
Stridulating Sensationalists: Certatogyrus marshalli aren’t the only ones capable of making shrill noises by rubbing body parts to make un-ingratiating sounds. Melodramatic anchors are equally capable. Witness, CNN talent Blitzer asking the President to speak to the camera and address President Assad…and then witness comedian Jon Stewart eviscerate the moment.
If Blitzer were the only anchor pumping up the volume, if not the content, of explicating contemporary issues we’d be in better shape. Unfortunately, he is only one among many teasing major questions with hyperbolic palaver.
Suggestion: Shut down the stridulation, and pick up a copy of Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality, “…It is not uncontrollable technological and social change that has produced a two-tier society, Stiglitz argues, but the exercise of political power by moneyed interests over legislative and regulatory processes. “While there may be underlying economic forces at play,” he writes, “politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest.” [NYT] Not exactly riveting drama, but a good answer to the technocrats from both ends of the political and economic spectrum.
Hysterical Histrionics: One needn’t be loud (although it may help) to be a hysterical histrionic, even tones can be employed to announce the imminent demise of American civilization. Evidently some people simply don’t have enough drama in their lives, and therefore some must be manufactured and foisted off upon the rest of us.
Blustering, irruptive to the point of stammering syllables, reductive to the borders of irrationality, all topics — no matter how nuanced — are compacted so that the Hysterical Histrionic can “discuss” them to his or her self-satisfaction. Most of this ilk have forgotten the fact that most problems have more than merely political ramifications, but politics is easier and more convenient to debate, so discussions involving the economic implications or the social consequences are dismissed as “uninteresting?” MSNBC has a collection of these, Fox has an impressive assemblage, and CNN is right in the mix.
Suggestion: Instead of bounding from wall to wall with the head-banging hand wringing Hysterical Histrionics, take part of an hour to read William R. Polk’s article, “Your Labor Day Syria Reader, Part II,” in the Atlantic magazine. While you may not agree entirely with the analysis — your blood pressure should resume a normal range after reading it.
#1. Any article droning (pun intended) on about the internal political implications of the President’s proposal for limited military responses to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and the potential actions which might be taken by the House of Representatives. Add to this category any article which weighs in on the hypothetical political results of actions taken on one side or the other. Would the President “lose” something? “Win something?” Would Republican leadership in the House “win” or “lose?” Drivel. Worse still, this is lazy drivel. Heaven forefend those covering the issues would inform themselves about the nuances of the subject, the priorities of the various actors and regional interests, and the complicated diplomacy required to find a sustainable resolution?
#2. Any article or post playing the blame game. Finger-pointing is also lazy reportage and analysis. It requires absolutely zero intellectual effort to sling ad hominem attacks back and forth across the complex terrain.
There are some far more thoughtful summations of opinions, and Nicholas Kristoff’s “Pulling the Curtain Back on Syria,” in the New York Times. He has also written “The Right Questions on Syria,” also in the Times. Kristoff supports limited military intervention in the situation, and presents it as the least worst option.
Richard Price, writing for Foreign Affairs, argues that military intervention is not required and offers his analysis to substantiate his position. For a longer, and more in depth discussion of the military issues associated with the conflict in Syria, download Kenneth Pollack’s “The Military Dynamics of the Syrian Conflict,” from the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
James Fallows opines about “The Best Result from Congress: A No Vote,” in his piece for the Atlantic. Fallows opposes military intervention and specifies his reasons for his decision. The editors of The Nation magazine offer a similar piece in “Standing Up To The Hawks in Congress.” Another perspective is on offer from Robert Kuttner writing in the American Prospect”s “Obama punts to Congress — and scores.”
Shibley Telhami looks at the question of “credibility,” and its relation to the foreign policy issues associated with Syria in “Questioning U.S. Credibility with Syria,” in which he contends that this focus blurs the lines between vital and non-vital interests.
Interests and regional issues are also discussed in Jayshree Bajoria, and Robert McMahon’s “The Dilemma of Humanitarian Intervention,” writing for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom will be looking at charitable donations, background checks for those who work with children and the elderly, and a proposal to fund school maintenance projects in Washoe County. [RGJ] There are some other bills of interest getting some attention this week, including AB 4.
AB 4: AN ACT relating to governmental administration; authorizing the State or a local government, under certain circumstances, to publish a legal notice or legal advertisement on an Internet website maintained by the State or local government in lieu of publishing the legal notice or legal advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation; requiring the State or a local government to publish certain information in a newspaper of general circulation if the State or local government publishes a legal notice or legal advertisement on an Internet website; authorizing a public body to charge and collect a fee for providing, upon request, a copy of certain public records under certain circumstances; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.
AB 4 will be discussed in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee, on Thursday at 8:00 A.M. I think we can assume that the Nevada Press Association will object to the measure, contending — as they do on their website — that:
“A fundamental reason for public notices is government accountability to its constituents. The notices are published through an independent party — the newspaper — to create a verifiable record of the date they were published and show that the content met legal requirements. Without such verification, government would be accountable only to itself.”
Delving a step further, public notices must be published in newspapers having a general circulation, as defined and refined:
“To meet the test of general circulation, a newspaper must publish some news of general interest and circulate to the general public. Under NRS 238.030, which provides for publication of legal notices in a newspaper “of general circulation,” a daily newspaper which contained only information taken from public records did not qualify because primary purpose of printing legal notices is to give widest publicity practicable, and a newspaper, in order to meet test of general circulation, must publish some news of general interest and circulate to some extent among general public. Nevada State Press Association v. Fax. Inc., 79 Nev. 82, 378 P.2d 674 (1963).” [CCNLN]
Thus, a newspaper which publishes daily, weekly, or semi-weekly, which has a “general” circulation, and contains some “general” news becomes the “independent verifier” of public notice and the requirements pertaining thereto. This becomes controversial when we reach the part wherein counties must publish their property tax rolls.
The price tag for publishing the property tax information required of Clark County is a hefty $580,000. [LVSun] Advocates for the newspapers hold that the price is the cost of a transparent government, opponents argue that if the information is readily available on-line (and can be verified) there is no reason to pay for what is essentially a duplication of notice.
Another question which could be raised in this context, i.e. who’s being notified. The Las Vegas Review Journal has a circulation of approximately 220,619 copies; the Las Vegas Weekly has a circulation of 75,000; the Reno Gazette Journal is reported to have a circulation of 43,095. [link] We could speculate that the major newspaper publishers in Nevada are facing some of the same numbers as their national counterparts — that is, they are looking at decreased circulation of approximately 5% annually. [LAT] The trends reported in the Los Angeles Times were predicated on (1) readership moving to on-line sources, (2) the reduction of distribution to outlying areas and bulk distributions, (3) increasing prices for print copies of newspaper publications. Trends similar to the 2010 results were noted by the New York Times in 2009.
The Pew Research report of its study on newspaper readership issued in 2012 wasn’t very optimistic:
“In the new survey, only 29% say they read a newspaper yesterday, with just 23% reading a print newspaper. Over the past decade, the percentage reading a print newspaper has fallen by 18 points (from 41% to 23%). Somewhat more (38%) say they regularly read a daily newspaper, although this percentage also has declined, from 54% in 2004. Figures for newspaper readership may not include some people who read newspaper content on sites that aggregate news content, such as Google News or Yahoo News.”
Two graphics illustrate the issue concisely.
When there’s an 18% drop in newspaper readership since 2002, the question should be raised: Who is being notified, to whom is information being verified, when the state or local governments are publishing information to a progressively smaller number of people?
The newspaper publishers have a valid point in saying that some independent agency should verify the context of the public notices required by law. On the other hand, it’s hard to contend that the publication of notices and information doesn’t constitute a form of public subsidization of a private news enterprise. Another issue concerns the type of information required.
Do we need to publish hard copies of the property tax rolls? Yes, some readers do use the information to compare property values; but, yes, others are simply nosy parkers who delight in seeing which of the neighbors might be delinquent in their property tax payments. Is there a substantive difference between publishing property tax rolls and information like requests for bids on government capital improvement projects costing more than $250,000? Here’s hoping the Government Affairs Committee will take a careful, and thoughtful, look at the implications of public notice requirements.
A bit more blatant blog flogging: The Fix is seeking nominations for state based political blogs to add to its annual list. Your nomination for Desert Beacon would definitely be appreciated. Link Here.
#1. The Senate of the United States of America does something constructive with the FILIBUSTER rule. The original rule was intended to prevent the willful trampling of minority points of view, but the abuse of the rule is now part of the clichéd “Washington Gridlock.” There is a delicate balance between Majority Rule and Minority Rights, but Obstruction for its own sake is not a laudable occupation.
#2. The Republicans in the House of Representatives eschew the Hastert Rule , under which a majority of the majority party caucus must agree to the passage of a bill before a vote can be taken on the House floor. This might have been a lovely idea if the current majority party caucus weren’t the replication of that other cliché– a wheelbarrow load of frogs. Governance requires compromise, and compromise demands the admission that we don’t always get everything we want. Ideological posturing is not a substitute for principled discourse.
#3. Someone in a position to do something about it finally figures out that arguments over raising the debt ceiling are academic at best and consummately silly at worst — rather like announcing that because I overspent my budget for this holiday season I’m going to chop up my credit cards and not pay the bills. Aside from being the most fiscally irresponsible action imaginable, it’s also a manifestation of the idea that the full faith and credit of the United States is some kind of bargaining chip in ideological squabbling.
#4. The National Rifle Association (aka No Rational Argument) stops pretending to care about the right of our citizens to keep and bear arms, and honestly announces that its ultimate intention is to promote the sale of as many firearms as its manufacturing donors can create. After that, it should be far easier to discuss comprehensive background checks, closing the gun show loophole, and banning military style assault weapons.
#5. More people, perhaps even more people in the national media, stop referring to “The” government and start calling it what it is — OUR government. “The” government calls to mind the institution which cracks down on Moonshiners, or enforces school integration, or ignores calls to make Jefferson Davis’s birthday a national holiday. “The” government didn’t decide to integrate public schools — “our” government did. “The” government didn’t decide to enact regulations to prevent air and water pollution — “our” government did. And, “The” government didn’t create the Food Stamp (SNAP) program — “our” government did that. And so it goes. Continual references to “The” government is an unfortunate holdover from the Reaganesque caricature of government designed to promote the financial health of the economic elite by appealing to the discontent with those laws “our” government enacted to promote OUR general welfare.
#6. Our representatives on Capitol Hill learn to say “____ isn’t the end of the world as we know it.” I could do with a great deal less hysterical hyperbole. “This is the Largest Tax Increase In The History of the Universe!” Probably not. “This is the worst violation of human rights ever!” Probably not that either. “This will create the worst calamity known to man.” Probably not. “This will destroy our ____.” Again, probably not. Excuse me while I chuckle at the pomposity of this meaningless prognostication.
#7. Journalists who seek to inform me via the television set prove to be (1) knowledgeable about the subject under discussion, and (2) include fact checking as part of the “context” of which they speak so often. If a statement made by a politician is factually inaccurate, they will tell me; and I hope they’ll be able to offer a correction. I really don’t care if they are correcting the record in the wake of Left Wing Larry or Right Wing Richard’s pontification. The object of the exercise should be to impart accurate information so far as it can be known — I can get my “entertainment” elsewhere. Bluntly, the “he said, she said, and then he said” reactions from professional chatterati or elected representatives is less entertaining than a good professional wrestling match, which at least has the grace to admit it’s a scripted farce.
#8. Somebody finally declares the Culture Wars over and done with. Our contemporary version appears to incorporate a toxic dose of good old fashioned misogyny. Women make up about 51% of our population and telling them they cannot have an abortion (even in the cases of an ectopic pregnancy or as the result of a rape) is paternalistic to the core. Worse still would be telling them that their employer can decide if their health insurance plan covers contraceptive medication.
#9. On a related note, it really doesn’t do to blame God for everything. I’d cheer the week that some blowhards weren’t showcased in the media for pronouncing God’s Wrath for … whatever. Hurricane Katrina — God’s wrath for a Gay Pride gathering? Really? God’s wrath because we don’t pray hard enough? That certainly doesn’t explain the attack on congregants in the Knoxville Unitarian church. God’s Wrath because we don’t have organized prayer in schools? Huh? No one at Columbine High School, Platte County High School, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech University, or Sandy Hook Elementary knew how to pray and practiced it regularly? Spare me the Westboro Wannabes who “know” the mind of God better than a six year old child.
#10. The confetti will fly when we begin to have a serious discussion about global climate change without having to incorporate the phony “science” offered up by the fossil fuel industry. No, there isn’t a “controversy” here. And, no reputable science deflects our responsibility as human beings for the contamination of which we are clearly capable.
Speaking of the Almighty, there’s an old story about the man caught in a flood which seems appropriate at the moment. “Why, he cried out to God, am a trapped in these flood waters?” The Almighty, sorely tired of listening to the wailing, said, “I sent you warnings.” “When?” “When?” responded the Deity. “When indeed.” “I sent you warnings on the radio. You ignored me. I sent you warnings in television broadcasts, and you ignored me. I even sent a deputy sheriff to personally advise you to evacuate. And, you ignored him too.” ….
We’ve been visited with major named storms, watched ice caps diminish, seen glaciers disappear… and all together too many people are ignoring the warnings.