Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ventriloquist Journalism: The New Vernacular

Now here's a useful term I've never run into before: "ventriloquist journalism." Credit goes to new Power Line blogger Steven Hayward via M. Stanton Evans. Let Hayward explain:
Kudos to John for staying after Eric Lipton's fast one, which is a classic in the genre of what I call "ventriloquist journalism"--the highly refined technique by which "news" reporters seek out a source to confirm their preconceived story line with a specific quote. I didn't think of that term myself; I learned it from my first mentor out of college, the great M. Stanton Evans, who was one of the nation's youngest major newspaper editors decades ago at the Indianapolis Star.
Italics mine, carving out the actual definition.

The link in this graf, BTW, is to fellow Power Line-er John Hinderaker's entry earlier entry exposing  Eric Lipton's faux journalism at the despicable, rarely fact-checked New York Times. It's a classic anecdote that elegantly defines "ventriloquist journalism" via real world experience.

Hayward elaborates on the topic:
Reporters for mainstream media publications like the Times are extremely skilled at this dark art, and have numerous techniques for getting a source to utter a pre-written quote. Basically they just ask the same question over and over again in different form, and them culminate with, "In other words, would it be fair to say that. . ." until you give in. It takes a lot of patience and determination to resist their well-polished blandishments. The best of them have the whole "good-cop, bad-cop" schtick down cold.
Yup, you see this on TV "ambush journalism" clips all the time, too, usually perpetrated on hapless Republicans by the networks' star socialist reporters, camera man in tow.

The other flavor of this is to reformulate the trick question in ways that disguise its intent, the better to trap the interviewee into an answer that he probably neither wanted nor intended to give.

Ventriloquist journalism a good way to get yourself on the fast track for a Pulitzer, particularly if the tactic makes a George Bush or a Newt Gingrich squirm, grimace, or otherwise look bad. In the end, it's just another example of how so-called journalists crank out propaganda rather than actual news you can use. (It's also the way to win invitations to the very best cocktail parties in the Hamptons.)

BTW2, apropos of today's current state budget battles, here's another pithy Evans observation, obtained from an un-linked piece in the American Spectator:
Tax cuts are like sex; when they are good, they are very, very good. And when they are bad, they are still pretty good.
Did this dude study the comedies of Oscar Wilde?

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