Archive - May 18, 2010

Selling Glorified Exaggerations of Violence

Exaggerations make me sick. Seriously, they make me physically sick. Okay, not really. That was a little bit of an exaggeration, just like the exaggerations I hear about the fish my friends catch, their romantic encounters, or perhaps even their physical abilities. The fact is, there is nothing new about exaggerations. They are too often used to make something insignificant seem significant. They are used to sell entertainment or other products.

This came to mind as I read the latest news that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s Words on Vietnam Service Differ From History. His website states that “He served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, honorably discharged as sergeant.” In the section on Veterans issue, he is described as “a veteran of the United States Marine Corps Reserves, and father of a Marine”. There, he pledges “to continue standing with the courageous men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country and their families. They have earned our respect, and we must always fight for them as they have for us.”

In fact, he has often spoken at events honoring veterans, and in some of those speeches he has spoken about how we, as a country, have a habit of sending young men and women to war, and then forgetting them when they come home. He says that is unforgivable. He praises people, including Republican Congressman who are working so hard to change that. Then, he says, “We have learned something very different since the days I served in Vietnam…”. The problem is that during the Vietnam conflict, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and ended up in a unit that did not see action in Vietnam.

The New York Times goes on to cite various examples from four newspaper articles over the past decade that gave false impressions about his military service and berates him for not correcting these errors. Given the error rates of so much of the news, it is not surprising that researchers could find four articles over the past decade that gave false impressions, nor is it surprising that Attorney General Blumenthal focused on other issues.

What is the real story behind this article? Some interesting insights can be gained from an article in the New Haven Independent, Simmons Stands To Gain Most From Blumenthal Expose. It says that the Linda McMahon campaign

subsequently followed up with a release quoting a blog item crediting the McMahon campaign for digging up the video and providing it to the Times—portraying McMahon not as a soldier (in comparison to Blumenthal) but rather a candidate with “$16 million” to fund “a crack opposition research operation.” McMahon’s team portrayed this as a characterization to be proud of.

Where did this $16 million fund come from? Ms. McMahon’s fortune comes from selling glorified exaggerations of violence as entertainment. Personally, I prefer an exaggeration caused by a person showing empathy for our veterans that an exaggeration that desensitizes people to violence.

Why didn’t the New York Times acknowledge that this story was fed to them by a person running against Attorney General Blumenthal a few days before the State Democratic Convention? It is hard to say, but one must question the ethical choices they made. More importantly, we must wonder why newspapers are choosing to focus on distractions as opposed to real issues affecting our country. Perhaps the New York Times believes their business model is more about selling glorified exaggerations of violence than about politics. On one blog post I added a snarky comment:

we should never support candidates that have exaggerated, whether it be Hillary dodging bullets in Bosnia or the guy running for board of education who claims to have caught a larger fish than he really did. These are the important issues that our country faces. We should not get distracted by meaningless issues about who is best able to address problems in our economy, environment or other similar trivialities.

This fascination with insignificant pre-written stories at the expense of explorations about the issues facing our country, really, really makes me physically ill.

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