FOR REALISM AND DIVERSITY IN LIBERAL JOURNALISM AND AT THE NEW YORK TIMES
Imaging Hillary Clinton
Templating is the forcing of reality into pre-designed conceptual molds, or stereotypes. In liberal journalism a reporter is likely to report information that confirms a stereotype, and spin, qualify or ignore information that doesn’t.
A template story sets up or reinforces an attitudinal predilection in readers toward a certain political personality, party or policy course. Template stories have the intention of producing a cognitive map in a reader that creates an imperative in him or her to make a specific decision about a political person, organization or issue.
During the 2006 election The New York Times will characterize Republicans as privileged and manipulative and Democrats as of the ordinary people. The newspaper’s stereotyping also involves the profiling of Republicans and Democrats into broad politically relevant personas.
Republicans are, according to the template, wealthy, authoritarian, disconnected with the real policy needs of American society and likely to be insensitive and even intolerant toward blacks, gays and women. Republicans are likely to not mean what they say, and are only interested in profit or power. If good things happen during their watch, it is either by accident or in spite of, rather than because of, anything they do.
Democrats, the contrasting stereotype holds, are of the people, democratic, knowledgeable and compassionate to society’s needs, and tolerant. They mean what they say, and are not interested in power for its own sake, but only in using it for the good of others. When good things happen during their time it is by design and because liberal philosophical assumptions are valid. If bad things happen it is because agents exist which block this design or thwart these assumptions.
During the 2006 US Senate election in New York, The New York Times will market Mrs. Clinton as the candidate of democracy and “the people” and her Republican Party opponent as the candidate of stealth authoritarians and “special interests.” Mrs. Clinton will be seen as speaking to issues that most concern people, while her Republican opponent will be seen as trumpeting issues that will get her elected. Mrs. Clinton is of the mainstream; her Republican opponent hovers at the edge of the mainstream, on the political right. Against the backdrop of such imagery voters are likely to identify with Mrs. Clinton and accept her policy positions, and rebuff the Republican Party candidate and distrust Republican policy prescriptions.
Templates and stereotypes may contain kernels of truth. But they fail as legitimate journalism because they take these elements and magnify them to an unreasonable degree in one politically relevant group or set of issues and minimize or ignore them in others. The tinting of people and issues is designed to give one side the intellectual and moral high ground, so that it can attract political legitimacy and momentum.
Stereotyped stories are easy to spot. A reader can identify whether a story is artificially contouring reality by asking herself two questions: “Does this story’s theme and assumptions correspond with what my experience and innate reasoning tell me is true?” and “Does the story present its themes and assumptions in a way that treats all candidates and parties equally?”