Monday, January 10, 2011

War, Sports, Politics

The following is something I wrote in November. It is a draft of a novelized account of real-life political workings. The main character, the narrator, is a national political reporter based on several real people I know and interviewed for the project.

This passage is appropriate at the moment.

From The Message Factory:

In political reporting we often file stories as if they are, well, stories. There's a protagonist and an antagonist. We use the language, the rhetorical flourishes, of the campaigns we cover. We resort to the biblical language of good versus evil, even repeating the scriptural references political speech writers use to connect with some audiences. When the biblical doesn't work, we turn to the language of war. I theorize there's a hierarchy of figurative language: biblical, militaristic, and, finally, sports metaphors.

As a reporter, I'm sure I've contributed to the hyperbolic language of political campaigns. I admit it: I'm part of the reason voters are cynical.

When I first considered writing about the mysterious campaign consultants at The Message Factory, I'll admit I was searching for the people to blame for our toxic political culture. Imagine the accolades for a reporter who could locate the demons behind the darkness of campaigns. The Examiner would be up for a Pulitzer. Try to name a serious reporter who wouldn't want to uncover the real story behind the election victories of certain disturbing politicians.

I now realize the depths of my personal biases. I still consider certain voters ignorant, at best, and manipulated, at worst. I wanted to believe that evil, uncaring extremists employ consultants to trick the public into voting against their own best interests. Okay, part of me still believes that. But, I also have to admit that I see things a bit differently than I did a year ago.

Every reporter has biases because we are human. We try our best to be objective, and failing that we try to be as fair as any humans can be. This often results in presenting "both sides" when one side is clearly wrong. I'm no longer convinced that's good journalism. At the same time, we have to admit to ourselves that personal convictions can be wrong, so we have to seek out and report the alternatives. I'm struggling with what reporting should be in the future, but it needs to be honest.

This personal kerfluffle could have been avoided if I hadn't wanted to write an exposé on the most famous unknown political consultants in the United States. I tell myself that being a good reporter made this state of mind inevitable.

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