Monday, January 17, 2011

The corrosive drip of violent media metaphors

There’s a lot of talk in the news these days about politicians toning down their rhetoric following the Tucson shootings. Some of the talk was on page 2 of today’s Oregonian in a story headlined “Lawmakers take steps toward civility.”

The new speaker of the house, John Boehner, is reported as substituting “job-destroying” for “job-killing” in describing the Democrats’ health reforms. Never mind that there’s no evidence that the reforms either kill or destroy jobs.

This all sounds like just another contrivance of the Republican word-twisting consultant Frank Luntz, infamous for his “death panels (they were never proposed but they sound scary as hell),” “death taxes (aka inheritance taxes),” and “climate change (aka global warming).”

(Oregonians will remember “job killing” from the “Job-killing Taxes” campaign against measures 66 and 67 a year ago. The business-funded organization opposing the taxes even called itself “Oregonians against Job-Killing Taxes.”)

Back to Boehner. In fact, a reversal of the health care reforms, as advocated by Boehner and fellow Republicans could be literally “people-killing” for those without health insurance.

Ooooops. Make that “people-destroying.”

Come to think of it, what’s worse?

But I digress because this is a post about media rhetoric not about politicians defanging (softening?) their pronouncements.

When I say “media” I’m not “taking aim at” (see how easy this is?) FOX commentators exclusively. I’m talking about the likes of the Oregonian sub-editor who wrote the largest headline on today’s front page.

“Battle over Bioswales and Bikes” was clearly written by some over-reaching desk jockey unwilling or unable to take a lesson from Boehner and the suddenly civil. If you read the story bearing this over-blown headline, you will discover it has nothing whatsoever to do with a “battle” over bioswales and bikes.

The operative word in the story is “bungling,” as in Mayor Sam Adams’ bungling his promotion and financing of bioswales and bikeways (not "bikes," as stated in the headline).

Any high school journalism student could find the obvious headline: “Adams bungles bioswales and bikeways.”

But oh no, we need to wage war here (readers love conflict, even if it doesn’t exist, right?), so let’s up the ante to “Battle over Bioswales and Bikes.”

Headlines like this are just one more example of media exaggeration reliant on fabricated, violent metaphors. It is part of the slow, daily drip of “information” and "news" eroding civility in our culture.

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