Thursday, October 18, 2007

Agenda journalism at the Chicago Tribune

Residing in the Chicago area means being subjected to the Chicago Tribune and its various subsidiaries as the major media voice in the region.
Harkening back to the glory days of Woodstock and Watergate, the crew in the Trib's news shop has gotten ever-less apprehensive about using the force of their position to advocate on behalf of their chosen causes, all of which, surprise-surprise, fall into the Modern Liberal Orthodoxy.
Here's an analysis of a recent faux-news item, in the format of a letter to the editor:

On Wednesday, October 17th, the Tribune ran an unusual article on page two of the front section.
The headline was "Gun range in school is targeted as health, safety issue" and the byline read "By Robert Gutsche, Jr. Special to the Tribune."
The article concerned a school shooting range in east central Wisconsin, in the small city of Sheboygan.
No apparent reason for the appearance of this article as a "news" item was discernable. The events actually cited in the article are almost less than routine, bordering on completely unimportant.
The first thing a reader in Chicago would wonder is "why is this being printed in the news section of the Chicago Tribune, a hundred miles away from Sheboygan?"
A more careful inspection of the article seems to present some clues. From the first sentence, this article is posited as from the viewpoint of one specific person, the mother of a student at this middle school. It also immediately sets a tone of incredulity, based on a supposition of an extraordinary, and bad, occurrence. A tone of wonder is then presented ("I never would have suspected something like that...") to make clearer the point of view of the author, that of the existence of a bad condition or situation.
After throwing in one more indicator of a "problem" ("raised eyebrows") mention is then made of a not-similar air rifle range in Pennsylvania. The article then segues into a broad set of statements by Paul Helmke of the Brady anti-gun group. Interestingly, the writer chooses to use a Helmke quote that is very far from Helmke's normal public pronouncements on the topic of guns, one that appears to be intended to placate those who ordinarily would take exception to Mr. Helmke's public positions. It comes across as a hedging maneuver to defuse the expected derision from those who are all-too-well aware of Helmke’s usual misstatements and deceptions.
We are then brought back to the mother, who, we later learn, is a transplant from Chicago. Some discussion about "cleaning up the range" is brought forth, before the disclosure that the mother in primarily interested in closing the range and ending the programs that its use supports. "Guns and school don't mix" she proclaims, a point of view normally only heard in the most concentrated urban areas, like, say, Chicago. A little more information about the range as a public resource along with a passing mention of some minor, even irrelevant, operational issues is presented, and then the author launches a point of view of his own, barely connected in any meaningful way to the Sheboygan range. We are treated to the standard agenda-journalism cues such as "questions about the range..." and then a laughably strained effort to tie this facility to a school shooting halfway across the state, in a set of circumstances that bears absolutely no connection to the Sheboygan activities beyond the presence of smokeless powder. Then, going all the way to ludicrous, the author invokes the tragedy at Crandon wherein a police officer used a rifle to kill several persons, not in a school, and with no evident tie whatsoever to any public firearms-training program whether in a school or not. This portion of the article is then padded with yet another unrelated school shooting incident hundreds of miles away, again, with no connection to a firearms training setting, course, or range.
Finally, we are hectored by the agenda-journalist's favorite Greek chorus, the well-known but anonymous "critics". These experts insist that guns should not be "entering school doors at all", an absurd point, considering that the presence of firearms in schools has been going on completely uneventfully for hundreds of years in this country (and many others), and it is only very recently, since the beginning of the modern gun-banning movement exemplified by Helmke's tiny splinter group, that there has been any problem whatsoever.
Without even bothering to engage the flaws in that perspective, the reader is finally forced to ask: What is the Tribune doing here? Why are we being handed a thinly-disguised piece of agenda journalism draped around a trivial event a hundred miles away? Is there some connection between the mother and the author of the article? Or someone else, a writer, editor, or supervisor at the Tribune?
The real suspicion is that once again, the Tribune's news shop is using its position as a deliverer of news to advocate, and in this case, in the method being seen ever more frequently in the Tribune and like-minded papers: preparing a battlespace.
There just is no other good reason for an article like this to be placed in the newspaper except to engage in a campaign of advocacy, placing another piece of agenda marketing in a faux-news format to build up a crescendo of noise in support of a specific program. In this case, it's the Tribune's oft-and-clearly stated intention to get firearms banned in Illinois and the United States.
The more sophisticated among media people call it the "narrative", and so this trifle of a polemic appears to be, another piece in a wall of perspective-conforming bits of advocacy, and as is so often the case, advocacy for an unpopular and unpleasant cause.
One has to wonder why the people at the Tribune are willing to trade in the remnants of their journalistic credibility for advocacy. We hear that modern journalists believe that they are there "to make a difference", but the way things have slid off the edge, making a difference would be just plain reporting the news and keeping the agenda to ones' self.

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