16 September 2008

Examining the News

The Headmistress had a great idea:


Take an essay, an editorial, the transcript of a political speech, a news article. Copy and paste the article in question to a word processing document or a blog. Then read it slowly, very slowly. As you read each paragraph, try to sum up the point of that paragraph, exactly what was that paragraph saying? Type out your summing up of that paragraph, either in a bolder font above it or below it, putting that paragraph in parentheses.


I thought I'd try it out. My article is the first political thing I ran across over at Fox. (I wasn't in the mood to fool around with MSN's page.) So I have


Obama Fine-Tunes ‘Change’ Message, as Race Tightens

The presidential debate has turned from which candidate can deliver change to which candidate has the best change to deliver.


Here's my first impression after just glancing at the first little bit of this article. I haven't even read anything yet and I'm wondering: Since when does paragraph = one sentence?



And in the new messaging landscape, Barack Obama is fine-tuning the most basic element of his campaign.


This should go with the sentence above. The next three sentences should as well. That would be a paragraph. Connected thoughts on a single topic: the change in Obama's propaganda.



Obama, whose slogan has long been “Change We Can Believe In,” has since the end of the Democratic National Convention in late August altered his rallying cry — and not because it ends in a preposition.

Obama now speaks at a podium that bears the words “Change We Need.”

He advertises upcoming “Change We Need” rallies on his Web site. And he incorporates the modified phrase into his stump speeches.


Obama tweaked his call for change.



It may seem like a small tweak, but in the carefully calibrated Obama campaign nothing is incidental.


Obama et. all do nothing by accident.


“There’s a real distinction between more of the same John McCain would bring to this country and the change we need,” Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, when asked about the slogan shift.

“It’s not that we’re moving away from (the theme of change). We are incorporating the seriousness of the issues this country is facing with the commitment to change we have been talking about for 20 months.”


McCain's dangerous; we (Obama & friends) are responsible.



The sudden focus on change-iness, as Stephen Colbert might put it, comes after John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin began to market themselves as the true reformers. McCain declared “change is coming” in his GOP nomination acceptance speech, and the duo has since played up its maverick roots in television ads and on the campaign trail.

The poaching of Obama’s campaign theme coincides with an uptick in the polls for McCain, who has been leading in the Gallup daily tracking poll since just after the close of his party’s convention Sept. 4.


McCain stole Obama's thunder, and it's working. People like to hear about change.


The enthusiasm surrounding the GOP ticket has been attributed in large part to his history-making selection of Palin as his vice presidential nominee, but McCain’s themes also fly in the face of the Democratic Party’s attempts to cast his candidacy as a third Bush term.

“(Obama) needs a sharper, more focused, tighter, more immediate message,” Democratic pollster Doug Schoen said, casting the 2008 race as still a “simple” choice between Bush policies and real change. “The slogan is a baby step but it’s only that.”

He said the slogan adjustment is a recognition that, “we’re past the point where we need to believe in things. We need results.”


McCain's not as important as his VP, and his proposed change isn't genuine.


Obama himself has taken public exception to McCain’s use of the change theme.

As he does so, he draws the “distinction” Psaki referenced in the type of change he would deliver — change we need — versus McCain.


Obama is irritated that McCain is stealing his thunder and Obama further says his change is more desirable than McCain's.


“That’s the change the American people need,” Obama said in Golden, Colo., Tuesday. “While Senator McCain likes to talk about change these days, his economic program offers nothing but more of the same. The American people need more than change as a slogan — we need change that makes a real difference in your life.”


Like the Headmistress's commenter said: Yadda yadda yadda.


And Saturday in New Hampshire Obama said: “If we are going to bring about the change that we need, we have to understand what change is. We can’t be fooled because John McCain — I’ve been talking about change since we started this campaign.”



Yadda yadda yadda. He didn't even finish saying whatever it was he was going to say about McCain.


The Democratic presidential nominee used the “change we need” phrase several times in his nomination acceptance address in Denver. But the new rhetorical tack is still being incorporated into the campaign set.

Obama supporters Saturday in New Hampshire waved new “Change We Need” signs as the candidate spoke. But as recently as Sunday, Hillary Clinton stumped for Obama in Ohio at a podium decorated with a banner that displayed the old slogan.

Monday in Michigan, running mate Joe Biden was equipped with a “Change We Need” podium. Obama’s set on Tuesday said the same.


Hillary is outdated and somewhat on the fringes of the campaign.


The push-pull over change is similar to the rhetorical chess-play that emerged after the January Iowa caucuses in the Democratic primary, when the race between Obama and Hillary Clinton was widely viewed as a contest of change versus experience.

Bill and Hillary Clinton attempted to differentiate between the type of change being proffered in the primary campaigns, saying the former first lady would bring “change you can count on.”


Everyone talks about change this election. It's how they're playing the game this time.


The Obama campaign, though, has in the past few days attempted to use the financial turmoil on Wall Street to turn the campaign back to issues, and buttress their argument that McCain only talks about change.


Obama wants to talk about issues; Obama says McCain is just full of hot air.


McCain took heat Monday for saying the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

But the Arizona senator on Tuesday likewise applied his reform message to the financial meltdown.

“We’re going to start where the need for reform is greatest,” McCain said in Tampa, Fla. “In short order we’re going to put an end to the reckless conduct and unbridled greed that have caused the crisis on Wall Street. We’re gonna put a stop to it.”

However, McCain later returned to his years in Washington in an ad addressing the economy that pointed to “experience and leadership in a time of crisis.”


McCain says he's going to fix the economy... with more of the same.

Isn't "Senator" usually capitalized? I wonder if that's an actual typo or a subtle hit on McCain. Not that anything else in this article indicates that it should be given that much credit. This is not great writing. It's not even particularly good.


Leonard Steinhorn, professor of politics and media at American University, said the new Obama message seems to be an attempt to “create a partnership of change between Obama and the voters.”

He said the new rhetoric stresses the voters over himself, as he tries to blunt McCain’s use of his campaign theme.

“It’s not about the candidate. It’s about the type of society that we want, that we need to be different from the past eight years,” Steinhorn said. “There’s a subtle difference between the two, but the message is clear.”


Obama puts the voters before himself.

This is very interesting. I've been reading Literacy is Not Enough, and I think that Valentine Cunningham hit the nail on the head when she said this on page 10:


But there is, of course, reading and reading. And mere reading, base reading, simple, instrumental reading, does not raise you much above Jo's beast like level.
[Jo is an illiterate street urchin in Dickens' Bleak House.] And what is most striking about the changing nature of modern reading material is how it moves us insistently back to a more and more simplistic, merely instrumental, reading position. We, and it, are progressively dumbed and dumbed-down. We are treated more and more as nearly-Jos, forced increasingly to inhabit a sort of glorified Reader's Digest kind of world, the zone of the hand-out, the precis, the ad-man's slogan, the politician's catch-phrase, the government department's brochure, the headline. Public words get progressively baby-like. The lettering up in neon is gargantuan easy reading stuff. The tabloids' mastheads come in massive print, as if for nursery readers. We're surrounded by baby-words writ large, and simple sentences for the learner reader. Public discourse is made up of little words, short phrases, small paragraphs [!], brief texts.

It is one of the great ironies of our time that as the means of modern writing production get more and more sophisticated, modern reading-content gets more and more playschool.


Case in point. Neither Obama nor Fox's Berger and Kapp, authors of the article, manage to use any complex sentences or vocabulary. Paragraphs are too short to communicate a complete idea. The single quote from McCain (The article is noticeably one-sided, in favor of Obama, who was complaining about Fox not endorsing him last I heard.) is more of the same.

Though I do think that Ms. Cunningham is not giving children's literature enough credit. It's better than this particular example of "public words."

5 comments:

Keeley said...

Um. I got half way through typing a comment and it utterly disappeared! What's with that?

In any case, I was saying that this blog entry is very interesting, and you are very smart. =)

Ritsumei said...

Thanks Keeley! I certainly try to educate myself, and I must say that this exercise was educational, and every bit as time-consuming as the Headmistress promised. I'm glad that you like what I distilled out!I don't know why the blog would eat a comment, but thank you for persevering and leaving a comment anyway! The Headmistress did one too. Hers is an article about some stupid college kid who just about got eaten by the government in North Korea, but still thought it was fun. And just like things here in the states. It's an entertaining read.

Keeley said...

Oh my good gravy, Headmistress' comments on that article by the clueless college student were absolutely brilliant. =D

Dana said...

I think it took them four paragraphs to say anything at all. What kind of journalism is that? Haven't they heard of the upside triangle where you get all the important stuff in the first paragraph?

Dana
http://principleddiscovery.com

Ritsumei said...

I don't know what is up with that at all. Once I started to pay attention I was stunned by how bad the writing was. I thought these folks went to college! I thought they were putting some thought into the news! I thought a lot of things, I guess. I now think that the "news articles" we wrote in about 5th grade were probably as good or better than this junk they put out there for the masses to see.

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