Friday, April 17, 2015

Jeremy Clarkson, CNN, and the Plain Style

On March 25, 2015, CNN published an article online addressing the current controversy between Jeremy Clarkson and the BBC.  Clarkson was the host of the incredibly popular show, “Top Gear”.  Clarkson had been involved in an altercation with a show producer and was suspended and later dropped from the show.  Although his actions were absolutely unacceptable, Clarkson is notorious for his overtly aggressive and vulgar personality bringing to question whether the BBC should have taken the action they did by firing Clarkson.  With the immense following Clarkson has, it has become a big debate calling the attention of people all around the world.
Although the article does contain aspects of the official style, there are obvious structural and fundamental signs of the plain style.  With one or two sentence paragraphs, and a simple, clear, and concise message, I can identify the plain style and the purpose of the plain style.  With the average readability grade level score around 10th grade, I would argue that the number of quotations and names of people and places contribute to the height of the number.  To reach the intended audience, I assume those who are/were fans of the show and Jeremy Clarkson, this article needed to be written in a style that would be accessible.  Naturally, the plain style seems to fit the bill.  
            Recognizing the fact that BBC’s “Top Gear” reaches nearly 350 million viewers, it is safe to say there is the interest of the audience to consider.  Deep within the article, there was an obvious bias in favor of Clarkson.  This report could have been objective or completely ignored the overarching opinion of the public, but it did not.  Why would an author choose this?  To please the audience, that’s why.  Through a small amount of research, it was apparent to me that the general public and viewers were siding with Clarkson.  As for appeal, the authors of the article decided on elements of the plain style to subtly takes sides.
            The first sentence/paragraph of the article was glaring.  Stated simply, “Jeremy Clarkson won't have his contract renewed as host of "Top Gear" after he apparently busted his producer's lip and verbally abused him, the BBC announced Wednesday.”  I would conclude that this statement is clear-cut and understandable initially.  Taking a closer look at the diction used, I was able to identify a word that changed my interpretation of this statement.  Apparently.  Looking at the word apparently and the impact it had on the sentence, it made me question whether this story about Clarkson being involved in a physical and verbal altercation actually even happened.  The word also conveys that this contract renewal decision by the BBC is based on an allegation, not pure, hard evidence.  It shifted the blame from Clarkson to the BBC, which heads the trail of bias.
            The following sentence begins with, “Clarkson, who hosted one of the most-watched television shows in the world…” How is this biased?  Well, there are countless ways that the authors could have used a qualifier in addressing Clarkson.  They could have made a statement regarding his bluntness and controversial commentary, but they chose not to.  When an audience member considers a phrase like, “hosted one of the most-watched television shows in the world,” no matter who is being described, there is power and credibility placed within them.
            This article also stated that “Clarkson made a number of attempts to apologize” which was directly followed by “BBC Director General Tony Hall issued a statement announcing Clarkson was being dropped.”  This order and lack of transition cause the audience to view the situation differently.  There is information missing between Clarkson’s numerous apologies and the reasoning behind the BBC’s decision to fire him.  Because this information is missing, it makes it easier for the audience to side with Clarkson, assuming that he apologized, and the BBC simply would not accept his apologies.  The way these two simple sentences were crafted created a clear and concise message, but were ambiguous when it came to the perspective of the BBC.
            Another very important aspect of this article that clearly demonstrated bias in favor of Clarkson were featured Tweets from various powerful sources.  There was a series of three tweets from Richard Hammond, Rupert Murdoch, and Jeremy Clarkson himself.  Richard Hammond continues as a member of Top Gear, and worked closely with Clarkson building a strong friendship.  Rupert Murdoch is a huge name in the media world, and incredibly successful in the field.  Hammond tweeted, “Gutted as such a sad end to an era.  We’re all three of us idiots in our different ways but it’s been an incredible ride together.”  The emotional connection and appeal furthers the questioning about whether the BBC made the right decision or not.  Murdoch tweeted, “How stupid can BBC be in firing Jeremy Clarkson?  Funny man with great expertise and huge following.”  If that doesn’t persuade an audience to think a certain way, having a man in the business with experience and great insight question the BBC, then I’m not sure what would convince the audience otherwise.  The final tweet is from Clarkson himself.  He said, “Many many thanks to all of the people who have called for my reinstatement.  I’m very touched.  We shall all learn next week what will happen.”  Clarkson sounds gracious and genuine addressing the concerns of his followers.  Not one tweet featured an opinion in opposition to Clarkson.  The use of exemplum in this case created an article in favor of Clarkson, especially with the insight of Murdoch.  The informality of the Twitter medium also contributed to the creation of the plain style, using it to discretely take the side of Clarkson and place the blame on the BBC.

            Initially, this article is an easy read explaining the situation.  Looking deeper, it’s apparent that there is bias throughout that sways the audience in the favor of Clarkson.  This specific example of the plain style demonstrated simple sentences and seemed clear cut and concise to appeal to the audience.  Without overtly stating that the BBC had made a huge mistake, the authors seemed to leave holes where the perspective of the BBC belonged.  The constant use of exemplum throughout, in which the authors provided justification for Clarkson’s actions, provides a better sense of Clarkson’s character which showed that he did participate in anything all too unexpected.  The informality of including Tweets also showed the plainness, yet the Tweets chosen were only in favor of Clarkson.  All of these aspects point to the use of the plain style to sway the audience to side with Clarkson, or to appeal to the expansive following Clarkson has.  One might ask for what other reasons CNN would publish an article with such bias?  This is something to think about when processing the context and spheres surrounding the issue.


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