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AP’s Emotive Language For Gov. Rod Blagojevich

Not long ago, the Associated Press informed its writers that they should be more emotive in their writing. Instead of an old newsy just-the-facts style of reporting, then AP was looking to goose it up and add more opinion and emotion to its reporting of the “news.” Well, with the story of the arrest of corruption plagued Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his connection to Illinois Senator and president in waiting Barack Obama, the emotive words flow fast and furious. This incident serves as an interesting example of the APs new more emotive style.

For instance, for the AP Sharon Cohen gives us a piece headlined “Illinois governor’s arrest stuns politicos.” This piece tries to force upon Blago’s fellow Illinois politicians a sort of “shock” in response to Blago’s arrest. But, while some politicians and FBI officials expressed disappointment and a sort of faux shock, no one in Illinois or Chicago politics is really shocked that Blago is finally under arrest. It has been building for several years at this point and for most folks in Illinois at all aware of the situation, it was a matter of when Blago was going to get picked up by the feds, not if. There really isn’t much genuine shock and it is hyperbole to say there is. Truth be told, instead of real shock, it is more like weariness. (Even this AP piece featuring a series of quotes from Illinois politicians doesn’t reveal any of them being “shocked.”)

Cohen also made with poor analysis that seems to be floating all about the news articles about Blago. Cohen acted amazed that Blago could turn out to be such a bad seed when he originally ran on a reform policy campaign.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the story was that Blagojevich was elected as Mr. Clean, promising to clean up state government. His predecessor, Republican Gov. George Ryan, is behind bars for graft.

This is not very deep analysis. Blago was running against the past governor’s record and every Illinoisan knew that the former governor was going to go to jail sooner or later — it ended up being sooner and he is there to this day. With the fact that the former governor had been under a cloud of corruption for a long time, anyone that tried to run from his party (a party that had held the governor’s chair for decades already) was in the poorest political position. Blago seemed young and energetic, but no one was under any illusion that he was going to clean up anything. That he had come from one of the most corrupt political families and party machines in the entire state was well understood. Blago won, not because he was so great, but because the former governor was so bad. In truth, there isn’t anything odd, ironic or “intriguing” about how Blago won office. In fact, its pretty obvious to even the casual viewer.

In a different AP piece, the angle of Blago’s reformer stump promises is also raised. AP writer Deanna Bellandi says it is all so “ironic.”

It’s an ironic twist for a man who got elected in 2002 on the promise to reform Illinois’ notoriously dirty politics. Blagojevich’s predecessor, former GOP Gov. George Ryan, is serving time in federal prison on corruption charges.

Again, irony it isn’t except to an outsider that has only the least amount of knowledge of Illinois politics. Neither is it very trenchant political analysis. But it has been repeated in several stories as if it is somehow intelligent analysis.

Also writing about the Blago arrest for the AP was Jennifer Loven and Jim Kuhnhenn. In theirs titled “Obama works to distance himself from Ill. governor,” it was determined that this whole mess back in Chicago was really not much else but a “distraction” for Obama. Despite the fact that these AP writers don’t know what the future holds, they repeatedly went out of their way to clear Obama of any connection with Blagojevich.

Though Barack Obama isn’t accused of anything, the charges against his home-state governor — concerning Obama’s own Senate seat no less — are an unwelcome distraction. And the ultimate fallout is unclear. As Obama works to set up his new administration and deal with a national economic crisis, suddenly he also is spending time and attention trying to distance himself from Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and charges that the governor was trying to sell the now-vacant Senate post.

Far from merely reporting about Obama’s attempts to distance himself from Blago, the AP helps him do it by using exculpatory language and treating the charges that he may have a connection as a mere “distraction.” To their credit, though, this piece at least does discuss some of the possible sticking points for Obama over Blago’s messy arrest.

For the AP, writer Calvin Woodward attempts to start his piece with humor, using a columnist’s convention.

Note to prominent people doing questionable things: Don’t invite authorities or the press to check up on you while you do it.

Earlier, the AP’s Mike Robinson said that Blago was caught “brazenly” conspiring to “sell or trade the Senate seat.” Again using quite emotive language.

Anyway, the examples are endless showing that the Associated Press really was serious about going from a straight news agency, as it had been for generations, to combining a more emotive, opinion infused style with their news product.

The jury is still out as to whether this transformation was the right one to initiate. Whatever the case, it isn’t what one thinks of as traditional newswire copy, to be sure.

But, I must add this from Chicago Tribune columnist, John Kass.

So though Illinois isn’t surprised–this is after all the home of the Chicago Way–the national media must be shocked.

They’ve been clinging to the ridiculous notion that Chicago is Camelot for months now, cleaving to the idea with the willfulness of stubborn children. It must help them see Obama as some pristine creature, perhaps a gentle faun of a magic forest, unstained by our grubby politics, a bedtime story for grown-ups who insist upon fairy tales. But now the national media may finally be forced to confront reality.

On this subject, no truer words have been spoken in the Old Media than these. And the wide-eyed “reporting” by the AP bears Kass’ statement out quite well.

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