The AP, Obama, the ‘S’-word and E.J. Dionne

I never get tired of calling out the mainstream media.  Its reporters give us steeply slanted stories and we’re supposed to believe they are fair and objective.  A recent AP piece–not marked by Yahoo! as commentary or analysis–defends President Obama against the “socialist” label while simultaneously slapping down conservatives.

The article’s language allows the writer to circuitously vent his disdain for Obama critics.  In his prose, they “pounce,” “slur,” and “denigrate.”  Other words color the tone for us: contention, epithet, shock value, nonsense, insult.

He weaves quotes from academic experts.  One proclaims he is “weary” of the socialist label.  Another points to a “hysterical outbreak of abuse” and “animosity” coming from a “certain segment of Americans.”  In other words, racist bigots are saying bad things about the President.

Besides saturating his article with inflammatory language, the writer gets smarmy by informing the reader that it was a socialist who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.  He faults Obama critics for missing a strict definition of socialism, but goes on to quote and mention people who do not fit the bill he uses.

As written, this purported news story is just a string of unsubstantiated quotes and couched words meant to take conservatives down a notch.  But this patronizing corrective is not the first.  I remember NPR running a piece like this just prior to election day 2008.  For years now mainstream journalists have been meticulously removing criticism from the President as if they were remora eels attached to the belly of a giant, lumbering whale.  Hopefully a one-term whale.

These nominally non-ideological reporters work in tandem with analysts and commentators who are open about their Left/liberal leanings.  E.J. Dionne is among the more effective of this clean-up crew.  Whether in his weekly sparring with David Brooks or on the talk radio circuit promoting his new book, Dionne often comes across as sharp, earnest, and even magnanimous.  For many in the political middle that could be swayed, his style threatens to give credence to his thesis that conservatives have moved radically rightward, abandoning what he calls a traditional balance between private and public, individual and community.  Never mind that he conflates government with community or that families, churches, and civic associations don’t neatly fit into his talking points.  For some swing voters, tone and presentation will matter more than substance.

Anyone who wants to stave off the misfortune of another four years of Barack Obama and his liberal, Leftist, progressive, and Democratic friends should consider carefully how they’re talking about him.  “Socialist” may be a cogent term that energizes the base, but it will turn off at least a few independents who are paying attention.

What I’m suggesting is not the abandonment of principle but getting fancy with footwork.  In conversations that count, identify the common ground and frame the choice in those terms: personal responsibility, the dangers of centralization, or whatever it may be.  Make it clear that even if Obama and Democrats don’t satisfy some strict definition of “socialist,” it is a distinction without a difference.

We don’t need to renounce our partisanship like mainstream journalists do; it’s better to confess rather than suppress your bias.  But beyond the statistics, labels, and gotchas that get thrown about, we must connect the dots, clearly articulating why it is we believe what we believe.

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