This paper shall try to analyze, compare and contrast two strongly or heavily slanted pieces of writing: the City Room’s editorial of New York Times “The Times Answers Spitzer Scandal Questions” written by Sam Roberts and the UK’s Guardian pop music review “Ashley Alexandra Dupree” written by Alexis Petridis.
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Article 1: “The Times Answers Spitzer Scandal Questions.” The City Room, 2008 by Sam Roberts.
Summary: This question and answer editorial is a summation of all the things that transpired from investigative reporting, to political implications on the issue about the former governor of New York who had been entangled in prostitution and even un-allowed spending of campaign donations. The former governor’s involvement and legal standing, however, remain cloudy as of press time (Roberts, 2008).
The use of “question and answer” format in reporting makes reporting and fact delivery simpler and easier both for the writer and the readers in a manner that euphemism — the vague use of terms to make blatant accusations mild. By directly addressing one question after another, the writer will present only what is needed gauging the question and will not lead to other unrelated issues. The question and answer style was used in this editorial to clear up cloudy issues about the most recent political scandal that besought the State of New York, about its resigned governor Eliot Spitzer. The questions run the gamut of knowing what was behind the editorial investigations as far as implications of the political downfall of Spitzer on the Presidential race. Use of words such as “linked”, “described in the affidavit” were used amidst words such as “prostitute” to level up the harsh implications about the sexual scandals of the former official.
As it has been advised by many experts on the area, writing could take on a lot of style and form that could lead to more things other than what was actually written and read (Woolfolk, 1989 and Bosmajian, 1984). The use of question and answer, at an apparent situation, may mean a direct, no-frills discussion about a certain issue. But with references to what may be reported as actual events and discussions, euphemisms or allusions to “other” meanings of a report could not be avoided, if not directed by the article itself. This, guilt by association was also built upon by the article. Through immediate linking on Spitzer to prostitution has achieved a guilty verdict for the fallen government official.
There are certain advantages of the press that make them explore all possibilities of a report, especially for noise and scandalous news. Exploitation is inevitable, as when what is involved is sex, or other yellow journalism (Birk and Birk, 1972). This was definitely used by the editorial team of the New York Times as it discussed the details of the answers to the questions apparently posed by the readers. But mostly, readers may mean critics. This is a good chance for the editorial team that includes the reporters, stoolies, desk editors, page editors or city editors to expound their answers, using links to previous news posts or related articles.
This is also used to at advantage to win the argument, if there ever was one (Lutz, 1999). The article featured a question about why the prostitute “Kristen” need to be properly identified of which at another side would mean dragging a non-government personality or a private person into a not-so-flattering light. On the competition papers’ view, it was unethical reporting. But this is the twenty-first century where yellow journalism, a take on the ‘50s to ‘60s (Birk and Birk, 1972), has emerged as one of the most appealing among a wider audience.
The human drama about the fall of a political figure adds up to the appeal of the editorial. While the governor Mr. Spitzer was bamboozled at all sides showing how an editorial team or the entire paper loathes him, the editorial remained placid, almost calm, almost objective, which makes up hard news reporting. But this is hardly the case as Taflinger (1996) would put it. Words are powerful and a seemingly straight and clean one could elicit danger. Such as the use of “involved” and “linked” as the New York Times emphasized when it reported about the case of Mr. Spitzer the first time.
Article 2: “Ashley Alexandra Dupree” by Alexis Petridis, 2008 from The Guardian.
Summary: The article posing as a popular music review is a take on the distribution and marketing tactics of an ambitious sex-seller Ashley Alexandra Dupree aka Kristen. Dupree (which is not her real name) became an instant celebrity after her name got embroiled with New York’s former governor who had been accused of involvement in prostitution. But Kristen or Dupree have gone a long way as the speed of internet has supported her claim for instant success. Her uploaded songs in e-commerce retailers proved to have been a hit among internet users (Petridis, 2008).
The review alludes of bias and despise on Dupree, to the point of name-calling and card-stacking. As much as it would like to review Dupree’s music, Radiohead, a legitimate rock band, was highlighted instead several times, adding up one ace after another to the detriment of Dupree. It compared the way both have tried to reach their audience as musicians. It also compared the way they promoted themselves or their music. Lastly, it compared the way Radiohead was a hit because they certainly deserved so, while Dupree provided high internet traffic due to a scandal. The review also highlighted “Brendan Behan’s maxim about all publicity being good publicity.” It has been long believed by publicists, media persons, advertisers and public relations people that there is no such thing as bad publicity (Taflinger, 1996 and Lutz, 1999).
Music is music in the music enthusiast’s world, so, it is inevitable that there is a slant on its review. Ultimately, the review expanded to nine paragraphs, modest for a previously unknown act. The most the review could refer to when it comes to music influence, which is a regular for newcomers, were the MySpace claims of Dupree, on soul as it emerged Dupree’s music was pop and R’n’B or rhythm and blues. Ultimately, the review highlighted the earthly lyrics and un-exciting voice of Dupree. For most music reviewers, they still believe in history and hard work, for the art. And not some instant access to fame through something else, like hanky-panky sex.
Comparison and contrast: While the first article was a hard line editorial article, the second article was an arts review. The first was direct and used actual events and persons without a direct slant or bias. The second article one also used actual bands for comparison to Dupree, but the allusions and slant are more obvious as to what it wants to convey: it is writing against its main subject. While Mr. Spitzer was the main topic in the first article, it did not convey much about the former governor, but his activities that negatively affect his position as a government official, and what this may lead to.
The technique used by the first article was directly appealing to the intellect using guilt by association. The second article appealed to emotion using card stacking and name-calling techniques. The first served facts as if it was not directly implicating the subject. The second used opinions and comparison against an already established act to stack-up one ace after another against the subject, as well as use of prostitute and other sex-act words.
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However, it is to be noted that opinions, especially from respected institutions like the Guardian, are paid and provided for the expertise of the writer or the reviewer. While it is unlikely to compare pop to rock as Dupree to Radiohead, the freedom and allusion is up to the writer as long as there is a convincing argument the writer was able to produce. Petridis, apparently wants to convey about real art, the music and its artists going the traditional route of producing music, getting signed and becoming popular through acceptable manners. Bad publicity may not be really bad, but consumers discern and will buy a commodity or music because of its quality, and Petridis had nailed down her message.
Various techniques are used by both articles including guilt by association, name –calling and card stacking. The first one used a direct, straight and hard news reporting with a guilt by association approach telling only the details that are needed by each answer, indirectly linking Spitzer to some illegal acts. Nevertheless, this approach led to in- depth or so-called investigative news reporting that detailed what was beyond or what is the implication of an event that it reported. It was an important one and it could not have happened without the news report at all. The report implies the importance of vigilance and cunning of news reporters and their editorial team, on an entire federal state, or even a super power like the United States of America.
The second article is honey in its approach, hitting on the chords of fan loyalty especially for music enthusiasts using card stacking and even name-calling. Comparing an unknown pop-wannabe Dupree to Radiohead was definitely unfair. And so was Dupree’s approach to stardom, was the message. An unfair ride to a destination deserves an unfair treatment from the spectators.
Both are quite effective.
- Donna Woolfolk Cross. Politics: The Art of Bamboozling. From G. Goshgarian, ed., Exploring Language, 5th Edition, 1989, Addison-Wesley, pp. 90-107.
- Haig A.Bosmajian. Dehumanizing people and Euphemizing war. From Haig A.Bosmajian, Christian Century: An Ecumenical Weekly, 1984, pp. 159-165.
- Newman P. Birk and Genevieve B. Birk. Selection, slanting, and charged language. From Newman Birk & Genevieve Birk, Understanding and Using Language, 1972, pp. 4-12.
- William Lutz. With these words I can sell you anything. From William Lutz, Doublespeak, 1999, Harpercollins, pp. 73-87.
- Richard F. Taflinger. The power of words: Advertising tricks of the trade. From Richard F. Taflinger, Taking Advantage, 1996.