The top of the news this evening was a ‘story’ of Senator Joseph Biden offending Senator Barack Obama by calling him ‘articulate’. Those who still promote political correctness now want to enter this word in the PC lexicon. It is purportedly offensive because it implies that the speaker thinks not all African Americans are articulate and that Senator Obama distinguishes himself only to whites because he is perceived to be more like them.
In fact, not all white Americans are articulate—take our president, for example. Not all people are articulate. Articulate is color-blind; it means exactly what all dictionaries claim it means: “well-spoken, clearly expressing oneself” without any pejorative connotation. It is a compliment to whomever it is said to describe. Moreover, it is a quality this website and those like it encourage and (let’s hope, articulately) promote.
That anyone would mistake such a meretricious story for news is well beyond normal comprehension but, in fact, it reflects a growing obsession of the media with embarrassing public figures by misinterpreting their comments. The other ‘news’ today is that in a secret recording obtained surreptitiously from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s website, the governor called one of his political opponents ‘sick’ [sic]. Governor Schwarzenegger, like Senator Biden, immediately apologized. For what? The opponent immediately replied that he had been called worse. Who hasn’t?
John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore have all recently been similarly accused of making offensive remarks by the media for inane comments that were overinterpreted by media personalities as articulate was today. I am sure that I have missed at least a few.
Notice that the offensive nature of all these terms derives not from the terms themselves, as in the case of the N-word and all the offensive terms for women, but from the presumed motivation of the speaker, something no one knows but the speaker (see first paragraph). The interpretation of the offensiveness of these terms is innately ad hominem.
There was a time when the US media ignored even genuinely offensive comments by public figures and focussed on the relevant issues. Today very few people in the US media are even familiar with the issues (where familiar means having read several books and dozens of articles on the subject). The result has been a rush to yellow journalism, unearthing scandals, embarrassing public officials for no ostensible reason.
The problem is that with 24-hour news and competition from every side, there simply aren’t enough scandals to fill the time and pages. So the media flog a long since dead horse and derive from the exercise nothing more than insipid vapors portrayed as news. In doing so, the media become less and less relevant.
An interesting bit of support for this last claim can be seen in the growth of the number of feature documentaries. I can remember when documentaries were considered boring films shown only in schools. Now, documentaries like “An Inconvenient Truth”, “The Corporation”, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”—to mention a few I’ve recently viewed—are receiving feature runs in commercial theaters. Why are they so popular all of a sudden? Because they bring us the news while CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC race to see which can dredge up the most inane event of the day.