Something that’s particularly troubling in the left’s response to the Jared Loughner shooting rampage is the increasing corruption of “straight news.” Opinion is one thing: the effort of left-wing pundits to harden public ideas is appalling in its transparent mendacity – but transparent mendacity is at least
transparent. Opaque mendacity, of the kind worked into putatively factual narratives, is more difficult to detect, and perhaps ultimately more deadly.
One of the first things I read after Jared Loughner’s attack was an article in the national news section of the Los Angeles Times entitled “A calm voice in a divided district.” Said the blurb: “Before Saturday’s shooting, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had several other brushes with violence. ‘She’s one of the strongest women I know,’ says a former congresswoman.”
Two implications seem clear from this: that Giffords’s “divided” district is not calm – in a sense that relates to the Loughner attack – and that Giffords herself has faced “several” previous attacks or attempted attacks. The article then outlines two “brushes with violence.” One was the vandalizing of her Tucson office after the ObamaCare vote in March 2010. No one was present when the office’s glass door was shattered shortly before 3:00 AM, but the vandalism is certainly to be condemned. If instances of direct violence against Ms. Giffords were adduced in the article, the vandalism attack might reasonably be accepted as a similar kind of event. But the vandalizing of her office is the only act cited that even approaches “violence.”
The other incident is reported as follows in the Los Angeles Times article:
During a town hall meeting with constituents in 2009 at the height of the healthcare debate, a protester showed up with a gun. Police were called, but Giffords made light of the incident.
The casual reader might be pardoned for wondering why he never heard about this event; some wild-eyed protester brandishing a gun at a congresswoman would seem to be pretty newsworthy. The original reports, however, reveal that the wording in the Los Angeles Times is utterly misleading.
A more accurate account of the incident is that a gun-owner dropped his handgun, apparently by accident, at the Giffords townhall. Giffords herself didn’t see the gun fall, nor did her staffers. The police were called by a citizen in attendance, not by Giffords’s staff. The gun-dropping incident wasn’t reported at all in the story run by the local newspaper in Douglas, Arizona. The first media reporting of it came 6 days later in the blog of an Arizona Republic writer (link above). Giffords had this to say about the event: “A lot of people carry firearms here… at no point did I ever feel in danger and at no point did I ever feel there was a problem.”
But the Los Angeles Times article doesn’t tell us any of that. It goes out of its way instead to imply that the incident was an attempt at violence against Gabrielle Giffords. The story couples this manufactured implication with the March 2010 vandalism incident to suggest that Giffords has been beset by a pattern of violence – which the story links via the headline to “a divided district.”
This exercise in impressionism might win applause from Claude Monet, but it ought to get the journalists in question sent to their time-out corner for the rest of 2011. Perhaps many old-media journalists genuinely believe that dropping a legally carried handgun is inherently an act of violence. But that reasoning wouldn’t clarify why the authors of this article failed to report that that’s what happened.
By omitting key details and selectively juxtaposing impressions, they create the implicit outline of a particular, tendentious narrative. The effect for the reader of news is much like the skeptical moviegoer’s sensation of being manipulated by Hollywood screenwriting. And when such disingenuous rhetorical devices are detected in operation, the bond of trust with the audience is irrevocably broken. In the case of news reporting, that seems to be as much cause for sorrow as for indignation.