Monday, April 06, 2009

20 years later

In 1989, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Time Magazine and Newsweek (and, I'm sure, others) all reported that Vice President Dan Quayle, on returning from an international diplomatic mission, had stated that he regretted that he hadn't studied Latin in high school, so as to be able to communicate better with people in the Latin American countries he had visited. Quayle, of course, had said no such thing. It started as a joke told by a Republican Congresswoman, and made it into the media because it was "too good to check," and it fit the media template. Now, 20 years later, a google search of "quayle" and "latin" produces hundreds of links to lists of Quayle quotes, all presenting the joke as evidence of Quayle's intellectual inferiority.

In 2009, President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in press conference in Strasbourg, France, said:
It was also interesting to see that political interaction in Europe is not that different from the United States Senate. There's a lot of -- I don't know what the term is in Austrian -- wheeling and dealing -- and, you know, people are pursuing their interests, and everybody has their own particular issues and their own particular politics.

There is, of course, no "Austrian" language. In Austria, they speak German. Or French. Or Italian or English.

I suspect that the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Time Magazine and Newsweek will all manage to cover Obama's European trip without mentioning that. Just as they made it through the campaign without noticing his visits to all 57 states. Or when he noted that 10,000 people were killed during Kansas tornadoes (actual death toll: 12). Or when he claimed that the Afghanistan war effort was being hampered because all of the arabic translators were in Iraq. And more than a few other gaffes. Because the media storyline is that Obama is cool, calm, collected and brilliant.

The media has a storyline. The media has chosen sides. The evidence is overwhelming, undeniable, and piling up higher every day. It's boring to keep talking about it, but sometimes there seem to be compelling reasons. The 20 year gap, the fact that the "gaffe" is related to a language name, the "joke" being covered while the "gaffe" gets ignored - this one just screams out to be noted.

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