The Journalists' Handbook: How to Write any Story Without Working At It

At ricochet, Jon Gabriel published a brilliant “Media Narrative Chart for reporting violent crime”.

This handy chart helps journalists frame the narrative of each crime, “not to tell the audience what happened, but to expand the event into an indictment of Western culture.” For example, if the attacker is a non-white shooter and the victim is white the narrative is about gun control. If the attacker is non-white and the victim is also “run story about the Kardashians instead.” Go read it, and tell me Gabriel is wrong. I don’t think he is, and I bet this cheat sheet soon is copied into every journalism student’s notebooks.

Much the same preference for make-believe narrative over fact can be said of the political reporting this year where the increasingly careless New York Times which in Cathy Fasano’s telling confused “37 inches from 37 acres” to deny the existence of King Solomon’s Temple.  

Simply put, corporate media simply doesn’t understand the public disdain for the political class and is trying frame the foreign policy ineptness of the administration (and the former secretary of state) and the paltry offerings for the Democratic presidential race into a  fairytale of a Republican civil war in which conservatives are destroying their party.

Obama and Hillary have created world chaos with the ridiculous Arab Spring and Iran deal. The shakeup in the race for the Speaker’s job is not nearly as chaotic and irredeemable as the chaos in the world and the Democratic Party Obama and Hillary have created.

Narrative: Speaker Boehner has announced he’s resigning. His choice for a successor withdrew, the Republicans are in Chaos!!!! and it’s the fault of conservatives who should just go along with Democrats and ignore the promises their leadership made  in the last election.

House Republicans are supposedly in chaos. Yet somehow the earth keeps spinning on its axis, and yesterday the House actually passed legislation to allow sale of American oil overseas. What’s really in chaos is Obama’s foreign policy. And maybe the Democratic Party’s presidential field. Let’s see what the debate on Tuesday brings. A strong performance by Bernie Sanders might throw Hillary into a fatal tailspin. And/or she’ll get nasty with Bernie in unattractive ways. Meanwhile the rest of the country will be saying, “Who’s this Jim Webb guy? Why is he here?” 

Actually, this is precisely the kind of messiness we expect in democracies:

No one in America is going to change their mind about anything because Kevin McCarthy won’t be Speaker of the House. If you listened to the political media, though, you might have been under the impression that something had gone horribly wrong because the House Majority Leader made the surprise decision to withdraw from the race for speaker, leaving Republicans to scramble for a candidate. Yet this is the kind of messiness we should expecting from our most democratic institution. The House is where public sentiment first manifests. And public sentiment -- on the Right, and probably in most corners of American political life right now -- isn’t in the mood for coronations.


For whatever reason, he [McCarthy] didn’t have the votes. Don’t worry, Republicans can find 50 other politicians with the exact same skill set to take his place. Yet, McCarthy told National Review Online he doesn’t believe the House is “governable” anymore. “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom,” he added, offering us a peek into the conceit of someone who believes everything will fall apart if he’s not in leadership.

Fact is, Republicans have gained 69 House seats since Barack Obama became president. That hardly sounds like rock bottom to me. Many of those seats were won without any help from Republican leadership in Washington. Some of the victims of conservative success have been Eric Cantor, John Boehner, and now McCarthy. So perhaps the majority leader meant that so-called institutionalists were hitting rock bottom.  

It’s also true that at such an important time, who in his right mind would want someone like McCarthy, with his insane Whoopi Goldberg class analysis of Trey Gowdy’s incredibly important Benghazi hearings, at the helm?

Narrative: the problem is the House Republicans aren’t cohesive enough that they should fall in line as the Democrats did when Pelosi was speaker.

My online friend Rick Ballard (from whom I’ve stolen so much over the years) responds:

“Did Obama, Pelosi and Reid intend to lose 900 elective seats by enforcing discipline through draining the poisoned chalice? Or did they, just perhaps, err by firing before aiming?

I would prefer Boehner to remain until Gowdy completes the Benghazi report but I don't have any problem with Ryan. The House can do nothing of particular merit until Obama is gone and Ryan can probably limit howler damage [with regard to] '16 House races.”

Narrative: Obama wasted $500 million dollars training 4 or 5 Syrian rebels. About 55 others who were in the program promptly defected and turned over their weapons to Al Qaeda.

Pretend -- even ignoring their own contemporaneous reporting -- that Obama was reluctant to train the rebels and had nothing to do with the failure.

FAIR has noted before how America’s well-documented clandestine activities in Syria have been routinely ignored when the corporate media discuss the Obama administration’s “hands-off” approach to the four-and-a-half-year-long conflict. This past week, two pieces -- one in the New York Times detailing the “finger pointing” over Obama’s “failed” Syria policy, and a Vox “explainer” of the Syrian civil war -- did one better: They didn’t just omit the fact that the CIA has been arming, training and funding rebels since 2012, they heavily implied they had never done so.


[T]he Central Intelligence Agency set up a secret program of arming, funding and training anti-Assad forces. This has been reported by major outlets, including the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and, most recently, the Washington Post, which -- partly thanks to the Snowden revelations -- detailed a program that trained approximately 10,000 rebel fighters at a cost of $1 billion a year, or roughly 1/15th of the CIA’s official annual budget.

In addition to the CIA’s efforts, there is a much more scrutinized and far more publicized program by the Department of Defense to train “moderate rebels,” of which only a few dozen actually saw battle. The Pentagon program, which began earlier this year and is charged with fighting ISIS (rather than Syrian government forces), is separate from the covert CIA operation. It has, by all accounts, been an abysmal failure.

One thing the DoD’s rebel training program hasn’t been a failure at, however, is helping credulous reporters rewrite history by treating the Pentagon program as the only US effort to train Syrian rebels -- now or in the past. As the US’s strategy in Syria is publicly debated, the CIA’s years-long program has vanished from many popular accounts, giving the average reader the impression the US has sat idly by while foreign actors, Iranian and Russian, have interfered in the internal matters of Syria. While the White House, Congress and the Pentagon can’t legally acknowledge the CIA training program, because it’s still technically classified, there’s little reason why our media need to entertain a similar charade.

As for the efforts, detailed in the above report, to falsely fob off all the blame on General Petraeus, Hillary, and Leon Panetta, who, it is claimed, reversed Obama’s reluctance to get involved, FAIR reminds us:

“The president never “reversed course,” because he did exactly what Panetta, Petraeus, and Clinton urged him to do: He armed the opposition. Once again, the Pentagon’s Keystone Kop plan is being passed off by journalists who should know better as the beginning and end of American involvement in the Syrian rebellion. Nowhere in this report is the CIA’s plan mentioned at all.

The whitewashing would get even worse:

‘Some Syrian rebels who asked for American arms in 2011 and 2012 eventually gave up and allied themselves with more radical groups, analysts said, leaving fewer fighters who were friendly to the United States.’

But the U.S. did get arms to Syrian rebels in 2012. In fact, Baker’s own publication reported this fact in 2012.”

Narrative: The Republicans have a deep bench; the Democrats are stuck with a batch of geriatric losers. Continue to report that Hillary will not sink further in the polls, she’s about to turn this around and will walk away with the nomination and the election.

Actually, the more we see of her, the worse she does in the polls

“(Reuters) -- Just days before she will take the stage in the first Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton's lead over rival Bernie Sanders has narrowed, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Clinton's support among Democratic voters fell 10 points within less than a week.”

Yessir, she’s rebounding yet again. Ask those who frame the left’s narratives. And if she fails, you can be sure that they’ll pass the torch of  sure winner to the vice-president or Bernie Sanders or James Webb or a party to be named at a later date. No chaos there. Is there?

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