The AP: Using Emotional Descriptives to Demean the GOP

-By Warner Todd Huston

One of the best ways to cajole a reader into accepting a point of view is to use emotional descriptives in writing. It is the difference between opinion style editorials — like what I write — and straight news — like what a wire service like the Associated Press is supposed to be writing. Unfortunately, the AP has been adding ever larger amounts of emotional language to its news and, not surprisingly, that emotion is used to give support to the American left and to denigrate the right. A recent AP story about the rise of the new conservative movement in Wisconsin is a perfect example of that emotional language used to attack Republicans.

The story, “Wisconsin’s Democrats have got the blues” by Scott Bauer, ostensibly describes how conservatives in Wisconsin are on the rise, finding great success in organizing and fielding candidates. But the main emotional response one comes away with from reading the negative rhetoric of the story is a distaste over the conservative’s success.

The first sentence that casts the right in a negative light is directed against Wisconsin’s Tea Party groups.

A conservative insurgency — headed by a Republican candidate who actively courts, of all things, the tea party — is now making a strong bid for governor. And across the state, Democrats suddenly find themselves fighting to hold seats they once took for granted.

Notice the “of all things” line? What is that supposed to mean, anyway? We know how “of all things” is often used and that is as a remark of surprise or as a way to scoff at the legitimacy of the “of all things.” So, right there in the fourth sentence of the story we have the right cast into doubt of its legitimacy.

And do you think you would ever see a media outlet say that a Democrat asked for the support of Planned Parenthood “of all things”? Would the Old Media be so dismissive of an anti-war group, a gay rights group or any other extremist, left-wing group that a Democrat was seeking support from? No, but to the AP the Tea Party rates a dismissive “of all things.”

At the heart of the actual facts of the story is the Republican resurgence in the traditionally liberal state.

With six months before Election Day, Republicans are pressing to claim the governor’s office for the first time since 2001, win majorities in the Legislature, challenge liberal U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold with a tea party proponent, and seriously contend in three of the five congressional districts held by Democrats.

The AP then went on to paint the GOP Gubernatorial candidate as an extremist on immigration. Writer Bauer says that candidate Scott Walker has come out in support of Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigrant law saying that his support is “controversial.” In fact, the AP says, “the law is so controversial that even many Republicans in conservative states have shied away from it.”

Does the AP name any of these conservative that have “shied” away from Arizona? Not a one. One could easily note that “many conservatives” are in full support of Arizona, too, making the AP’s point rather pointless. Without naming or quantifying that “most” Republicans and conservatives are against Arizona, saying that “many” do is meaningless. But it does go to lead the reader to imagine that Arizona has no support among Republicans, the myth that the AP is trying to foster.

Bauer goes on to say that Scott Walker is unusual because he’s somehow too conservative for Wisconsin. Bauer writes, “it’s rare for someone as conservative as Walker to catch on.” But if he’s caught on, then can he be too conservative? After all, he’s caught on!

And you can guess what the very next sentence resorts to after declaring Walker too conservative for the Badger State. That’s right, Senator Joe McCarthy. “With a few notable exceptions, such as former Sen. Joe McCarthy, who exploited Cold War tensions in the 1950s to launch a notorious witch hunt for communists in government,” Bauer writes, “Republican standard-bearers here have tended to be moderate.” This as if Wisconsin has had enough Joe McCarthy’s to make a measurable trend. What “few notable exceptions” of evil conservatives Wisconsin has had besides McCarthy Bauer doesn’t bother to say. But if the AP can use the extremist reputation of McCarthy to tar all current Wisconsin Republicans, so much the better as far as AP is concerned.

And what of those other Wisconsin conservatives? Why, Bauer assures us that they would have been considered “fringe figures” in better times. Bauer informs us that, “conservative candidates who once would have been fringe figures have capitalized of the national voter dissatisfaction.” If this statement were true, wouldn’t it be true that Democrats have failed so miserably that the electorate itself has been radicalized? And if that’s happened wouldn’t Republicans be in the right to serve the voters? Bauer doesn’t say, but he does quote Scott Walker to that effect.

Walker said his conservative message resonates with voters angry over the federal stimulus, health care reform, and Wisconsin’s ongoing budget woes. “The left has clearly overreached,” Walker said.

Next is a fascinating example of dismissing Republican gains. After a hopeful reminder that Republicans may not win, the AP’s Bauer lays the GOP’s success on “luck.”

But the conservatives’ momentum so far has attracted attention. Their bid has been aided somewhat by luck. The unexpected retirement of liberal Rep. David Obey after 41 years in office may have improved their chances. The leading Republican candidate for his seat is tea party supporter Sean Duffy, a district attorney and former cast member of MTV’s “The Real World” who has raised $400,000 and been endorsed by Sarah Palin.

Luck? Obey is not quitting his career because of happenstance. He’s quitting because he’s afraid he might lose. There is no “luck” to it for the GOP! But Bauer reports Obey’s retirement as some sort of cosmic accident instead of the result of real GOP pressure on Wisconsin’s left-leaning pols.

In any case, AP writer Bauer invests a lot of negative imaging for the GOP in Wisconsin using language that goes beyond simply reporting the wheres, whos, whys, whats and the like in traditional dispassionate rhetoric. Instead he tries his best to dismiss Republican gains, tell readers that Republicans are too radical for Wisconsin and tries to convince us that they really should lose the 2010 election.

So much for a “just the fact” style of reporting.

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