Wednesday, May 8, 2013

CNN: An Unbiased Beacon of Light in a Dark World of Blandish

            Same-sex marriage is a controversial topic that has grabbed everyone’s interest over the past few years.  The Supreme Court has recently heard arguments over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which states that legally married same-sex couples cannot enjoy the same financial and other benefits that their heterosexual couple counterparts can, in the case United States v. Windsor.  This case has been equated to Brown v. Board of Education, as a modern day trial on social inequalities.  Many have demanded for a positive change for homosexuals, but others are still set in their ways and believe that allowing gays the same rights that heterosexuals are entitled to would be blasphemy.  Numerous texts have been written on this subject, particularly recently as it has become the center social issue.  I have chosen to review an article from on the subject in the light of the Plain Style to examine how it acts within its activity system.
            Same-sex marriage has been written about in an immeasurable amount of contexts.  Government documents written in the official style, the bible written in the creative style, among many others, all try to extract some type of truth as to how to answer this present what type of morality and legal approaches should be ensued.  The article “Same-Sex marriage and DOMA: 5 things we learned from oral arguments” by Bill Mears the CNN Supreme Court Producer, tries to offer some explanation to all of the arguments in a way that is very reader-friendly.  It appeared on the website on March 28, 2013.  Similarly to the topic of abortion, virtually every person has a hard-set opinion on gay rights.   Today it is largely accepted that a person is born gay, it is not a choice that they make.  With that being the case, gay rights affect the young and the old, the politically active and the more reserved, the gay and the straight.  With this amount of people interested in the topic, the activity system for the article is quite large. 
It is a commonly accepted fact that no news source is without its biases.  It is near impossible to write on current events without expressing some individual opinion, whether intentionally or not.  FOX News is considered overwhelmingly conservative, a machine for right-wing propaganda.  Many democratic politicians have boycotted FOX sponsored events.  In 2007, Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and John Edwards dropped out of FOX News-hosted presidential debates resulting in them having to be cancelled. MSNBC is on the other end of the spectrum, and is considered to have a liberal bias.  Republicans own the majority of news outlets so some people consider the idea of liberal-biased news to be bit of joke because of mass is deferential to Republicans.  Even so, MSNBC presents itself on a left-leaning stance and promotes Democratic values.  It was obvious in the 2012 presidential campaign that Obama was shown in a positive light while Romney was shown negatively.  One red-hot dispute occurred in 2009 when photo shopped pictures were used of Sarah Palin in promotion of her book.  MSNBC later apologized but it goes to show how filthy news outlets can fight in promotion of their ideals.  CNN is considered to be one of, if not the most, unbiased sources for news although it is leaning more towards the left.  It of course has a political agenda like any other news source however it makes a full effort to be moderate.  It is a front-runner in international news as well as national and is considered to be credible.  I will be demonstrating how “Same-Sex marriage and DOMA: 5 things we learned from oral arguments” is presented in an unbiased nature.
The article does not reveal any sense of trying to persuade the reader’s opinion in one way or another on if same-sex marriage is “good.”  Its goal is not to boast one side of the argument over the other but to rather inform the reader of the current situation within the courtroom.  The term “same-sex” marriage is used instead of “gays” or “homosexuals.”  The word “gay” has seen a whirlwind of changes in connotation.  The LGBT community has tried to reclaim the word in recent years from being used as a playground word for something that is unpleasant and vile to a term that is more of a demonstration of pride for one’s sexual orientation.  This new, proud, connotation is relatively liberal.  “Homosexual” however is used in a more conservative sense.  By using “same-sex” instead of the other two options, the article is able to convey a sense of being unbiased.  This is done in the hopes of appealing to a larger activity system.
            The average American does not have time to keep up on every government or social issue as thoroughly as they would like to so they look to social media and online databases for a quick synopsis of current issues instead.  A mother may look at this article in between dropping off and picking up their child from soccer practice.  Or perhaps a high school student whom is fighting the idea within himself if he could possibly be gay.  Whatever the case, any person in America with access to a computer could be compelled to read this article.  The group who would be reading this is a bit smaller then America though.  CNN readers are people who want the least biased report possible, as I discussed it in relation with other news sources.  People who access news from the web tend to be in their mid twenties to forties.  The comments on the news article reflected this idea and also showed the range of opinions on the subject.  They follow norms of civil manor; I did not detect any arbitrary personal attacks by one commenter on another.  This reflects the idea that the readers have some sort of education as it takes educated and mature people to have a civilized discussion about such a heated topic without resulting to harsh language and arbitrary insults.  I have listed two very opinionated comments that demonstrate the type of person to read this article:
The video placed at the head of the article also gives insight into the specific type of person who would continue on to read it.  It is taken from the CNN show “The Situation Room.”  “The Situation Room” is a modern way of presenting the news.  As FOX News and talk radio broke the mold CNN developed new, more upbeat ways to inform viewers.  The show gives a very laid back vibe with the host and his guests standing around a table discussing the events.  Furthermore, the ticker on the bottom of the screen lists a news story about Justin Bieber.  These attributes indicate a targeted younger audience.  The elderly crowd presumably prefers the news that they are used to that is styled in much more of a professional manner.  The mediating artifact supports my hypothesis that primarily 25 to 40 year olds hoping to gain a glimpse into modern news coverage view this article.  This is still considered to be a huge audience.  With such a large activity system appealing to such a diverse crowd, the article must act in an oversimplified, accessible way.  The easiest approach in doing so: the Plain Style.
            The Plain Style is characterized as being the most clear and straightforward style to write in.  It can be found everywhere: job manuals, medical information, bus schedules.  Journalism and news reporting generally embody most of the characteristics.  The article “Same-sex marriage and DOMA: 5 things we learned from oral arguments” proves that it will follow the Plain Style guidelines right off the bat in its visually appealing style.  The paragraphs are quite short, only two or three sentences, and the points of the article are represented in a list form.  The “5 things we learned” are indeed listed one through five.  According to a readability calculator, the average words per sentence are 15.6.  The Plain Style promotes short, less complex sentences.  While these sentences aren’t overtly short, the ideas within are still simple, and made even more understandable through smart use of commas.
            The article proves itself to be credible through the use of quotes.  By quoting the speaker of the House and justices of republican and democrat points of view, the author establishes his credibility by not promoting his preconceived notions of which party is right and demonstrating proof on the subject.  The author does quote Chief Justice John Roberts on his argument that President Obama has overstepped his bounds by declaring DOMA unconstitutional and refusing to have the Department of Justice defend it.  Instead, the House Counsel is.  The Chief Justice is indeed accurate in his point that it is not up to the Executive branch to decide what laws the Congress has put into place are constitutional or not, that is the Judicial branch’s duty.  This is a very moderate point to make for a news agency that is supposedly extensively pro-Obama but then again the author understands that if readers wanted a biased, left or right leaning analysis of what is going on they would read an article from FOX or MSNBC.  The author fully understands his position at CNN as a representative of the moderate and works to account the recent events in an unbiased, yet informative way.
            An active voice is used in order to articulate clearly what the facts of the article are.  Some solid examples I found were, “Wednesday’s memorable remarks came from Justice Elena Kagan,” “Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia have been known to dominate especially high-profile debates,” and “He pointed out.”  By identifying the doer of the action, the sentence becomes clearer and more emphatic.  The entire article is written in this way, there is no questioning what exactly is being said or the making of verbs into nouns supported by the to-be verb as there would be in the Official Style.  The Official Style also boasts speaking in the third-person whereas the Plain Style supports the more understandable and identifiable first and second persons.  In the introduction of this piece the author writes, “Here are five things we learned from arguments in this case.”  By using we (the first-person) the readers find themselves more easily associating with what is written and thus feel a bigger impact. 
Having the reader understand what is written is the most important key, even if that means oversimplifying the text.  An example of oversimplification comes at the beginning of the article.
A simile is a tool that is common to the Creative Style but in its use here it is an effective way of illustrating to the reader exactly what is being said.  However, the use of this metaphor is almost insulting to the reader because of how sophomoric it sounds.  The motive behind the activity system is to be educated on this important social issue, not to be patronized with allusions of a picky child.  The Supreme Court’s decision on this case is likely to hold for a substantial number of years.  Once the Court makes a decision on a controversial and widely publicized issue they do not typically revisit it until the dust has settled many years later.  A whole community of peoples lives could be extensively changed, the legal binding of the culminating point in two peoples love could become a possibility for all or the idea could be stripped away.  DOMA and Prop 8 are very real issues that are being discussed and to equate them to a picky eater is to take away some of the magnitude of the situation.  This opening statement may justifiably insult the activity system that includes gays and their allies. 
            The reader must also question what was left out of the article in the thoughts of sparing them from being overwhelmed by a technical standpoint.  It is clear that no jargon of the law area is used.  This was smart on part of the author because the activity system includes so many divisions of labor and to assume that extensive terminology is common by all would be presumptuous to say the least.  The largest, most technical word used in the whole article is “adjudicated,” and even most adults can figure the meaning in the context.  The end of the article gives the reader an idea of what is to come next in the process of the court, all of which can be explained in very technical ways with specific jargon, however it spells out step by step what will happen using very simple language.
            This article gives you a clear sense of what is happening in the law world of same-sex marriage and gay rights.  If someone tried to deduce the current state of affairs from lawyers’ notes or had waited until the Court’s official opinion, they would be mystified as to what was going on.  CNN offers their audience a leisurely way to keep up with current affairs through their well-executed use of the Plain Style in an unbiased way.

By: Erin Perry

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