The Importance of Syntax In Lies And Distortions
In the sport that is election season, polls are the scoreboard that we stare at.
One editorialist yesterday offered an insightful observation that the more obsessed we become on a number as a representation of winning or losing, the further we discourage lawmakers and elected officials from working together to solve problems.
This absolutist ‘win-loss’ mentality deters compromise, as constituents enforce the expectation that one colossal agenda be promoted over the other.
The writer suggests that officials would benefit greatly from collaboration to offer constructive solutions for which they would ideally be held accountable every two years. This would be akin to a performance review in the private sector. Instead, when the goal becomes ensuring the ‘loss’ of the ‘opposition’ to defend one set of ideals over another, the spirit of obstructionism prevails and nothing gets done.
Polls have an incredible ability to influence perception of the voting public and to affect outcomes.
For example, if the true, unreported number is 50/50 but is depicted as 52-48 in favor of one candidate and a chorus of pundits echo with certainty that the result is a forgone conclusion, it is very likely that some members of the 50 grow discouraged and elect not to participate. So in the end the scorecard shows 51-49; had those 49 believed they were the actual 50 instead of the 48, perhaps they would have emerged victorious.
I truly believe that media entities endeavor to directly influence the election with willful and selective presentation of facts and statistics. For example, the mainstream news media has been expounding upon the The Inevitability Factor for years now. The contemporary Zeitgeist seems to be ‘fake it till you make it’.
These news organizations manufacture stories with fairytale conclusions in order to profit from their outcome. Symbolism sells, and it is the grossest manifestation of abounding sensationalism. I notice often how frequently writers attempt to invoke some historical parallel or reference, to expound upon the great supposed significance of trivialities.
They exalt ‘symbolic’ victories for which we hang sentimental headlines like banners in our front yards. A fine example is the 2008 election in which, rather than assessing the merits of his candidacy, talking heads like Chris Matthews beheld in awe the beauty and symmetry of a biracial president with a foreign-born father and international exposure who overcame enormous obstacles to realize the American Dream. In the words of Joe Biden, it was “storybook, man”. This almost superhuman self-referentialism constitutes narcissism personified.
The post-election headlines read:
“America Atones For Racially Turbulent Past, Elects First Black President”
“Obama Elected On 40th Anniversary of MLK, RFK Assassinations”
“40 Years Later, The Legacy Of Dr King Realized”
These lofty existential assertions read great on a newspaper front page, but all one has to do is observe the trajectory of black unemployment and poverty rates to deduce that electing a half-black president doesn’t do anything for the black community. It’s intellectualized fluff, and a sheer contrivance in the face of social responsibility.
Ideally the media is a vehicle through which citizens educate and inform themselves, and from this actualization grow empowered enough to demand reformation in every realm of society. This requires objectivity, which was at one point a sacred oath that journalists undertook to preserve the honor of their profession.
Instead today what we have is an amalgamation of metastasized tumor cells seeking to expand, sell and acquire influence for their own personal gain.
In the past decade this culture has seen a marriage of social and news media Today, tweets and facebook postings generate as much buzz as traditional newspapers, magazines and websites do. When personalization becomes the operative word, and once personal interests are embedded in reporting, impartiality is lost.
In journalism class as a high school junior I learned that objectivity meant using neutral verbs and adjectives. A descriptor word was a sometimes-necessary evil. The responsibility of a journalist is to inform, not to advocate, I was told.
But in the past decade of reading newspapers, I have observed that word selection, syntax alteration and adjective emphasis has become a science employed to convey reconstructed truths to willing audiences.
Here is an example of a typical AP headline in reference to a jobs report during an historically sluggish recovery:
“AMERICAN ECONOMY COMES ROARING BACK”
Roaring? Like a lion, the king of beasts. Sounds pretty powerful to me, makes me feel optimistic.
Inspiring social optimism as a means of accomplishing a shared goal is one thing. Convincing citizens to purchase war bonds to conquer the German Huns was a worthwhile endeavor. Perpetrating falsities to foster a particular sociopolitical ideology and from it profit, though, is deceitful.
If we really believed everything in the media we would believe that the American economy recovered back in 2009. The recession ended then, but the end of a recession did not necessarily mean the beginning of a recovery, as those of us paying attention learned in the past three years.
I remember standing in a grocery store while unemployed in April of 2010. I had just returned from a demeaning job interview at a Chevy’s restaurant in San Francisco, for which I had been competing against applicants carrying briefcases and dressed in business suits.
Frustrated, I turned to the magazine section to search for a Sports Illustrated, and as my eyes scanned the selection I saw the cover of Newsweek, decorative and ornamental, red, white and blue, proclaiming: “AMERICA’S BACK: THE REMARKABLE TALE OF OUR ECONOMIC TURNAROUND”, an article by Daniel Gross. I was disgusted and offended by such a boldfaced lie, because I had just experienced firsthand what a malaise America was still mired in.
The basic rationale of the mainstream media is that the president rises and falls with the economy, so they need to paint the prettiest picture possible to improve Obama’s chances of reelection.
This has been the theme now for four years, and is every bit as Orwellian as Jack Welch contends it to be.
Numbers do paint a picture, even if they do not tell the entire story. Therefore they are always worth investigating. But as we know, a number should never be taken with face value, and unfortunately a lot of people suffer from chronic incuriosity and do just that.
Earlier this month I read the jobs report. “UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DROPS TO 7.8%, LOWEST IN 44 MONTHS”, beamed the AP headline.
The first three quarters of the article was very purposefully worded and arranged to convey a numbers with radiant optimism. Only in the second to last paragraph was it revealed that 350,000 people stopped looking for work, that the job gains of 114k didn’t even keep pace with people entering the workforce, and that the labor force shrank again to a participation rate of 63.7% that still hovers near a 30 year low.
A more accurate headline would have read: “JOBS REPORT OFFERS CONFLICTING NUMBERS”
As a young man looking for work, I know from direct experience as well as anecdotes from friends and acquaintances in their struggles to find work that the media lies and distorts in order to get their guy a second term. It is offensive and disrespectful to all who struggle.
To counter this ‘bunch of stuff’, I feel an obligation to restate some of the indisputable facts from which one may draw their own conclusions about the state of this economy and the success of this administration.
Infer what you will from these numbers; truth is relative and I do not want to impose my perceptions on my readers:
The working age population in the United States grew by 206,000 during September, about twice the rate of the jobs created (114,000)
Full time jobs in September declined by 216,000
The labor force participation rate was the lowest for men since 1948
582,000 of the 847,000 jobs created last month were part-time jobs for people looking for full time work.
The working age population has increased by 8.4 million since Inauguration Day of 2009, while 5.5 million jobs have been produced
12.1 million Americans are unemployed
40% of the unemployed have been so for six months or longer
8.6 million Americans are partly employed but looking for full time work
2.5 million Americans are only marginally attached to the labor force and not counted as unemployed because they have not looked for work in four weeks or more
8.2 million Americans have given up looking for work or dropped out of the labor force since January of 2009
60% of jobs lost during the recession were full-time
58% of jobs created during the recovery are part-time
Of the Americans employed in the private sector, 1 in 4 earn less than $10/HR
Annual median household income has declined by $4,019 since January of 2009, or 7.3%
The recovery has slowed with each passing year:
GDP growth was 2.4% in 2010, 2% in 2011, 1.6% in the first half of 2012, and 1.3% last quarter
This is not a recovery. This is stagnation.
Some counter that while the recovery has been slow, things are getting better. In some respects they are, yes. The economy is no longer in a free fall as it was four years ago. Housing prices are at pre-recession levels.
They demand optimism and are intolerant of anything else. If you politely point to the contrary, you are a ‘negative’, ‘obstructionist’, ‘oppositional’ ‘troll’ who ‘bets against America’.
How about somebody who simply wants an accurate assessment of what’s really going on?
My expectation of the media is that they provide me with the facts objectively and allow me to reach my own rational conclusions. The media tells me that the economy is recovering, and my personal experience tells me otherwise. The numbers that I garner from every possible source appear to support my position.
Look, I am aware of the gravity of our past and present situations, the depths to which we plummeted during the recession, and the enormity of the task that our current president elected to take.
I do not believe that one man, party or policy will fix in four years what took decades of unraveling by both parties to accomplish. I do not blame our president for the greedy corporate swine that endeavor to impose Western slavery on desperate workers and profit from a global system that promotes worker exploitation.
I do fault him, though, for adding 1 trillion dollars annually in debt for four consecutive years, because my generation will be picking up that tab.
But what I do expect is truth and honesty, an accurate depiction of the situation at hand. I resent being lied to for political expediency. I find it humiliating and degrading. I do not intend to walk around with a ‘Trust No One’ sign on my back, but I am beginning to react very negatively to being played for a fool.
I do not begrudge others their successes, nor do I wish to see others fail. I wish to enjoy the same opportunities that my parents and grandparents enjoyed as they made their way in the world. I want to see this nation return to its former glory and prosperity.
My overall opinion of the American economy is that it is improving, but not nearly fast enough, and that for whatever progress we have made since the official end of the recession, our position remains very fragile. And I fundamentally believe that Obama has not done the job that he said he was going to do, and I am suspicious of his ability to do so in the next four years.
In a court case the legal teams present all relevant facts before the jury, and I expect to be shown the same respect as a freethinking, autonomous adult capable of forming his own opinions. This is why I did not vote for Obama in 2008 and why I am not voting for him now: I am opposing the institutional monoliths that seek to dictate my reality.