Thursday, June 01, 2006

Today's Lesson in Bad Journalism

I used to appreciate CNN at one point. Apparently, I was on drugs. They've recently pissed me off with their blatantly nativist reports on immigration (ask Lou Dobbs - "Who can you trust?" Not Lou). Now I come across this story about a lawsuit launched by former sex offenders against a law that prevents them from going within 1,000 feet of a playground when children are present. They say that the law prevents them from voting, traveling on highways, and conducting other such innocuous activities and is thus unconstitutional; supporters claim that the law is there to protect children and should be kept.

But CNN wants you to believe that the sex offenders are trying to get courts to allow them to kidnap and rape children. Start with the headline: "Sex offenders sue for playground access." This makes it sound like sex offenders feel that they have the right to lurk creepily around playgrounds. That's an outright lie. Read on, and you find that former sex offenders - someone who has served their sentence is no longer an "offender" - are suing because the law interferes with their access to highways, polling places, and churches (places where playgrounds may be present). Their lawsuit is about how the law interferes with their legitimate daily activities, not with hanging around a playground and creeping out little kids. And you find that the law includes parks and pools as well, places not as directly associated with children as playgrounds. Think about it; "Sex offenders sue for park access" isn't anywhere near as inflammatory.

Now note the language used in the second-to-last paragraph: "The six, who include convicted child molesters and rapists, are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana." The appository phrase is entirely unnecessary and encourages the reader to choose a particular side. And I wonder why people give the ACLU a bad rap; they aren't advocating for people who feel that their constitutional rights have been violated, they're helping child molesters and rapists sue the government. Furthermore, the use of "convicted child molesters and rapists" makes it sound like we're talking about people who just got sentenced, not people who have served their debts to society.

Frankly, this "news article" would be more appropriate as a column. This is one of the least subtle instances of the manipulation of language in a news article in order to achieve a desired response. But this kind of thing happens in a ton of news articles from sources on every side of the political spectrum. I guess my point is this: watch out for misleading headlines and unfair juxtapositions of information.

Also, the search for WMD ends in Waldo, Florida. Now we just need to answer the age-old question: "Where's Waldo?" (I might add that this article is also misleading. The inclusion of paragraph 4 and paragraph 5 leads the reader to believe that those who protest against the opening of a sex shop are somehow responsible for the terrorism against the shop, which is about as dishonest as linking anti-war protesters to al-Qaeda. The technique is more subtle, however, so I didn't use it as my teaching moment even though it's closer to what you get from most professional news outlets.)

1 comment:

Mike said...

I think news establishments are going the way of the dodo, dinosaurs, and professional hockey.