Thursday, March 31, 2011

From "Former Altar Boy" to "And a Catholic Priest"

Not all that long ago, by my standards, there was what amounted to a set format for a particular sort of news item. it went like this:

[Accused], former altar boy, [crime] [victim]. [details].

Just fill in the names, the nature of the crime, and a few facts: and you're that much closer to having the evening news ready for broadcast.

A decade or so before that, it was [Accused], Vietnam vet, [crime] [victim]. [details].

Folks hearing that in the news might reasonably - if not accurately - get the impression that altar boys were destined for a life of crime: and that Vietnam vets weren't to be trusted.

Folks in the news business finally stopped - after veteran's groups and Catholics raised a stink.

'Some Kinda Plot,' Just Lazy, or Something Else?

There are quite a few possible explanations for the 'Vietnam vet/former altar boy' format, including:
  1. It's part of a vast conspiracy
  2. Journalists are lazy
  3. People write what they believe is true
I think #3 is probably the best fit with reality. Here's why:

1 - It's part of a vast conspiracy

Not very likely, in my opinion. Conspiracy theories can make good stories - like the explanation for weirdly-expensive items in military spending in "Independence Day" (1996). Entertaining as The Invaders was, though: I really don't think that space alien mushroom people are plotting against us.

I think conspiracy theories satisfy some needs. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (January 14, 2009)) That's not the same as thinking they're true.

2 - Journalists are lazy

I've worked under deadline pressure. I can see how it might make sense to use a familiar format, one that's sure to get editorial approval, instead of taking time to pry a new angle out of one more convenience story holdup.

That's not necessarily being lazy: that can be 'not getting fired.'

Particularly for a reporter whose editor really believed that Vietnam veterans are poor, uneducated victims of the military-industrial complex: brainwashed killing machines loosed upon the Masses.

Or, more recently, an editor who's convinced that altar boys are debauched victims of authoritarian oppressors: and not really to blame for the crimes they have to commit. Psychologically speaking, of course.

Those two paragraphs are full of stereotypes - and I've discussed 'conventional or formulaic conceptions or images' (Princeton's WordNet) before. (March 20, 2011, March 8, 2011)

3 - People write what they believe is true

I think that most folks don't lie: No, that's not quite true.

I'm pretty sure that Moses wouldn't have come down the mountain with " 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor' " (Exodus 20:16) if distorting the truth wasn't a fairly common problem. Or being tempted to, at any rate.

What I'm talking about is folks being comparatively honest about what scares them silly, or makes them mad.

I think it's likely that the folks who went ballistic over fluoride in the drinking water really believed that it was some kind of plot - or at least unnecessary.

By the same token, I think - and hope - that the folks who are convinced that acid rain, power lines, and/or handguns are gonna kill us all: really believe what they say and write. Or, if they're aware that they're making up their facts, believe that 'facts aren't important when revealing the truth.' Can't argue with logic like that - and that's almost another topic.

"...And a Catholic Priest..."

Here's what got me started thinking about stereotypes, perceptions, and assumptions:
"A former Nicaraguan foreign minister who once called President Ronald Reagan 'the butcher of my people' has been appointed to represent Libya at the United Nations after its delegate was denied a visa, the Nicaraguan government said on Wednesday.

"Nicaragua said the former minister, Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, 78, an outspoken critic of the United States and a Catholic priest, would replace the Libyan diplomat Ali Abdussalam Treki, who had been unable to obtain a visa to enter the United States..."
(The New York Times) [emphasis mine]
I'm not sure why The New York Times decided to add "and a Catholic priest" to their mini-bio of Miguel D'Escoto Brockman. It's an interesting detail, certainly - but so is his master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. And his position as former president of the United Nations General Assembly.

But The New York Times decided to put add "and a Catholic priest" right after "an outspoken critic of the United States."

Seriously: I do not know why that was done.

I suspect that "and a Catholic priest" got placed near the top of the article because the editors thought it would catch the attention of readers - and therefore sell more papers.

I also suspect that The New York Times editorial staff hasn't changed all that much in the last few years.

I think that 'America's newspaper of record' serves as the hometown newspaper for an influential part of New York City's population. Which isn't a criticism: I think local newspapers serve an important function.

I am also of the opinion that folks whose world consists of the 'better' parts of Manhattan, and possibly the more upscale suburbs, aren't nearly as cosmopolitan as they think. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (October 21, 2008))

'Liberation Theology' - Bad Idea

Finally "and a Catholic priest" may - particularly given the rest of the new Libyan representative's background - indicate that the fellow's dedicated to 'liberation theology.' I've discussed that sort of thing before:
"...There are even rules about when it's okay to mount armed resistance to oppression. (Catechism, 2243) That's not the same as 'liberation theology;' and America isn't even close to being ready for the sort of housecleaning that's going on in Libya. In my opinion. I've discussed liberation theology before. (footnote 4 (January 27, 2009)) Short version, it's a bad idea: and the Holy See says so. (August 6, 1984)..."
(March 5, 2011)
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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.