"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at
occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind
up the streets ... fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps
struggled against the darkness."
First sentence of the novel "Paul Clifford" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton,
Fiction writers have wide latitude to choose words that will plant
situations in reader’s minds and enhance the dramatic effect of the
are telling. We like it that way, and the above passage has inspired
Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest with prizes for sentences that plant
fantastic, outrageous or unlikely scenes in readers' minds. (check it
Even song lyrics can take root in our minds. Since Christmas I have had
refrain "Do you see what I see?" (from the 1962 song by Noel Regney and
Shayne) dancing in my head, especially as I follow the news. News is
supposed to be fiction. We expect it to show us some reasonable
of realities we can’t experience first-hand. Yet the question nags: in
words, photos and stories of news media, do we see what others see? Do
what’s really there? Do we see the whole story or parts selected for
Many news stories today are dramatic fiction with an agenda. The story
"Weapons of Mass Destruction" was designed to make us believe we must
Iraq, and it worked.
Now consider this: "The current [Social Security] system is headed for
iceberg ... We need to establish in the public mind a key fiscal fact:
we are on an unsustainable course ... That reality needs to be seared
e-mail by Peter Wehner, aide to Karl Rove, 1/5/05
Do you see what I see? Is Social Security really heading for an
Googling around the mainstream media I found two basic stories. One
being called "Wehner’s Iceberg) says roughly that this unfair program
people to pay for benefits for possibly undeserving others is headed
disaster and will bankrupt the nation in 10 years.
The other story portrays Social Security as a self-sustaining program
protects people from destitution in old age or misfortune that will
stable for at least another 40 years.
How do we determine which story is more plausible? Do we hear these two
in equal measure? It appears that the recommendation to sear one
our consciousness has been adopted, with our Storyteller-in-chief
turning up at
the top of every newscast with stories about the crisis in Social
the other story, let me suggest Paul Krugman’s Jan. 11 column.
What we see, what gets planted in our minds often turns on a single
phrase. Here’s an Associated Press news story from 1/9/05: "BAGHDAD,
Iraq -- The
United States military said it dropped a 500-pound bomb on the wrong
outside the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, killing 5 people. The
owned the house said the bomb killed 14 people, and an Associated Press
photographer said seven of them were children. ... The U.S. military
said ..."Multi-National Force Iraq deeply regrets the loss of possibly
Do you see what I see? "Multi-National Force Iraq" suggests a different
from ‘the U.S. military'. Who’s doing the bombing and who’s doing the
regretting? Were 14 people killed or five? Do we get to see the
pictures? And why "possibly" innocent? Are they less dead if they
innocent? Or does ‘possibly’ justify the bombing? Would a responsible
report say that the tsunami killed 140,000 ‘possibly innocent’ people?
For many people in the last 50 years first-hand experience with reality
face-to-face exchanges of stories have been replaced TV shows that tell
designed to sell advertising, ideologies or political agendas. Many
live vicariously through TV and base their values, moral judgments and
positions on what they see there. I can't believe, for example, that
Boat Veterans for Truth" story would have gained any traction just
War II -- there were too many vets around then who had been in a real
Certainly Bush and the neoconservatives have capitalized quite
our TV culture. The stories they tell resonate with what people hear
and see on
TV. When Democrats try to tell stories that should resonate with real
jobs, health care, schools, war, environment -- they simply aren’t
Do you see what I see? Apparently not. Apparently about half of us
stories of the Bush administration as plausible, reasonable, and above
criticism; the other half sees them as dramatic fictions designed to
into giving up our basic liberties and programs for the common good,
immoral wars, and selling off the resources of the planet for profit.
It is a dark and stormy night, and neoconservative winds are fiercely
the scanty flame of democracy struggling against the darkness. ...
Where will this story lead?
Caroline Arnold (firstname.lastname@example.org) served 12 years on the staff of SenatorJohn Glenn and is now active in civic and environmental affairs in Kent, Ohio.
Copyright Record Publishing Co, LLC 2005