I enjoyed this Michael Kinsley
post last year more than anything I'd read in
a long time, because it speaks to a big frustration of mine: while (contrary to
most blogger stereotypes) I appreciate the importance of reporting, I can't
stand reading most straight news writing.
Again and again, complex
issues of bias and fairness--what papers cover, whom they talk to, how they
frame coverage--go unaddressed. Yet in the interest of avoiding bias at a more
micro-level, convention demands that reporters meticulously avoid calling a
spade a spade. Instead, they take a paragraph to explain that some people think
a spade is a spade, while others reject this notion. It's excruciating.
Some commenters won't like the example I'm about to use--I'm looking at
you, Anonymous, and also you, other Anonymous--so to be clear, I'm not
suggesting that the New York Times'seditors or reporters are favorably
disposed to the American Family Association, which is sponsoring Rick Perry's prayer-themed political rally tomorrow. I'm
saying only that ostensibly evenhanded copy like this in fact obscures more
than it clarifies:
liberal critics call it a hate group, the [AFA] and [founder Donald E.] Wildmon
are widely revered in conservative circles.
If you've never heard of the AFA, this
sentence--and the whole article--will give you the impression that it's a
mainstream conservative group. It isn't. It may be widely revered within
certain religious-right circles, but within the broader conservative coalition
it's merely tolerated--because a lot of the ideas its leaders push are pretty extreme.
And it's not just that Human Rights Campaign or MoveOn calls the
AFA a hate group. The nation's foremost expert on hate groups, the Southern
Poverty Law Center, has identified it as such based on careful investigation
and a precise definition of the term. Sure, the SPLC's
civil-rights-movement roots might place it broadly within the left (though
hardly the most controversial part of the left in this day and age). But the
group monitors left-wing as well as right-wing hate. It's a serious and
credible authority on hate groups, not a liberal messaging shop.
I'm not sure I'd go so far as to always refer to
the AFA simply as "the AFA, a hate group." But something like "the AFA,
designated a hate group by the SPLC, which monitors hate groups of all kinds"
would serve readers much better than this sort of "he said, she said" approach.