Saturday, July 01, 2006

NPR: Lame, or Shilling for the Powerful?

I was listening to NPR while driving over the past few days, and I heard them use two phrases that made me realize just how little analysis they put into their phrasing -- or how much they're sucking up to the powerful (which is worse?).

The first, which I have to paraphrase since I didn't write it down yesterday, was their "headline" in response to the Supreme Court Decision against military tribunals: "President Bush will turn to Congress for the authority to deal with terror suspects".

Think about this for a moment. It sounds so reasonable on the surface, but if you unpack it, it's easy to see that this is basically a Karl Rove talking point. Implicit in the summary is the idea that the Administration's hands are tied; that the US Military and the Justice Department are totally incompetent to prosecute suspected terrorists; that 219 years of U.S. law under the Constitution (and several hundred years of English Common Law before that), plus the Uniform Code of Military Justice (plus those "quaint" Geneva Conventions) have nothing useful to say about prosecuting people who are accused (oh wait, no, there are no actual accusations -- these men are not so much accused as insinuated at) of conspiring to attack the United States, or who were prisoners captured in a conflict with the US armed forces.

The second phrase I heard today; it was regarding NASA deciding whether or not it would launch the space shuttle Discovery. The person reading the news said something like "Some inside NASA say that foam from the fuel tank could pose a risk to the shuttle....".

Some inside NASA? Like, the engineers?! But what really made my eyes bug out is the idiocy of the "could pose a risk" phrase. This is so meta it makes my teeth hurt. Something can "pose a danger", or it could "be a risk", but "could pose a risk"? That's saying "it might be might be dangerous".

Okay, I'm probably playing Militant Grammarian of Massachusetts too much here, but I really do think that that phrase has serious overtones that Orwell would recognize in an instant -- bluntly put, it's a way of downplaying whistleblower critiques of decisions made on political grounds. Not is a problem, not could be a problem -- but might could be a problem.


Shame on you, NPR.

(What was that about a Liberal Media again?)