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Embedded War Coverage Found Objective By Pronouns?

It was an email from my alma mater, so of course I dove right into it.

As an alum and occasional guest lecturer at Indiana University, I've got nothing but love for the school of journalism and the home of the Hoosiers. But I gotta wonder what they're putting in the water these days at Big Red.

Seems a group of researchers looked at a "composite" 16-hour day of reporting by CNN from March 22 to March 23 2003 -- a time which would have been within a week of the war's March 18 start. They looked only at field reports -- 64 embedded and 46 non-embedded -- to conclude there was little support for the notion that journalists were not objective.

How do they know this? Because they looked at the pronouns.

Yes, the question of objectivity came down, not to story selection, which facts were reported or how the facts were delivered, but the question of whether reporters used "I" and "me" or "we." ""Non-embedded reporters were actually more likely to use the broad-ranged 'we' than embedded reporters, who never used it," reads the paper, "The 'I' of Embedded Reporting: An Analysis of CNN Coverage of the 'Shock and Awe' Campaign."

As someone who wrote about this very issue during the war, I find it interesting that IU's researchers avoided the cable channel which was the highest-rated during the conflict, Fox News Channel. (see another column on this issue here) I also find it odd that, in a war which attracted reporters from network TV news, cable news, newspapers, Web sites, radio stations and local TV stations, these researchers drew broad conclusions about how embedded reporting worked based on one TV outlet's work over a 16-hour period.

Those who have read my work before know I have highlighted Fox's conservative tilt in coverage and I wrote about their use of words like "we" for the military and "the enemy" and "our enemy" in reference to Iraqis. So how can you gauge the extent of objectivity by looking only at pronouns, avoiding the network which abused this language the most?

I have this sense that we're all getting a bit of collective amnesia about how some news outlets played the patriotism card in their coverage and promos during the war's early days. No one wanted to be labelled unpatriotic and some outlets tried hard to cast their own coverage in one light and cast aspersions on others.

But I guess I have IU to thank for something -- besides an interesting blog posting. Their J-school taught me to look behind the obvious spin in a press release to see what is actualy being said -- too bad their own researchers couldn't do the same.

Will & Grace & America's Attitude About Gay People

It was a quandary only Hollywood could produce.

Sitting with Eric McCormack in a hotel foyer eight years ago, I asked this handsome, witty, well-scrubbed actor exactly how much he resembled the new character he'd be playing in NBC's highest-profile new sitcom, Will & Grace.

In other words, was he gay?

McCormack, a savvy guy who had already been asked that question about 1,000 times, responded with a punchline: "My wife was asking me that just the other day. Of course, no one ever says to (then-ER star) Anthony Edwards, 'Have you ever done major surgery?'"

The line got the desired laugh and we moved on. But was a different time that was: ABC had just cancelled Ellen DeGeneres' sitcom amid controversy after she came out as a lesbian the year before. Rosie O'Donnell hadn't yet decided to come out, but Rob Halford and George Michael had. And pressure groups were still running full-page ads in American newspapers on how gay TV characters would ruin the country.

It's easy to forget, in a world of Queer Eye and the Logo cable channel, and the OutQ satellite radio channel and The Soprano's Vito Spatafore, that TV wasn't always so gay friendly.

And even though I've written about how network TV still can't bring itself to show gay love or gay sex, Will & Grace still helped make TV a little more hospitable to the idea. So let's all hoist a Cosmopolitan or two for the two-hour series finale tonight and say goodbye to a show which broke a lot of ground in its own, sly way.

(Check out the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's info pack on W&G here.)

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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