As the Chilean mine rescue unfolded in real time, coverage in every language suggested we were witnessing a miracle.
So what’s in that word, miracle? Not intelligence and good will. Not good journalism either, not even good theology. So says a man often called a miracle himself:
Roman Catholic theology from the days of Aquinas has tried admirably to build on logical reasoning. . .Such theology is a help is clarifying what we’re really talking about. . .
That is why precision in language is useful. Einstein observed, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with the important matters.”
Good slogan for a real news organization or top-flight journalism college, if there remain any of either.
Immediately post-Watergate when I was an honors journalism undergrad and newspaper intern, the least consequential “fact error” led to the student’s sudden death: an automatic, unappealable zero on the assignment, no matter how well-executed otherwise. Einstein’s trust-the-truth principle was the reason hammered home to us.
(Is unappealable a real word? Hope you get my true meaning from it.)
Real news journalism for that brief and shining moment — a few decades at most? — meant lively, liberally educated minds pursuing and expressing truths with precise yet poetic language meant to convey knowledge in both small and important matters. . .you know, more what America’s Founding Fathers really said and did and meant, less what their words have decayed into.
How much better to describe the rescue as the result of the fortitude of the miners and the skill of the good-willed people on the surface who reached them in what was, after all, a very short time. How much better to say the outcome in Chile was the result of intelligence and good will.
But there seems to be a narrative in these matters that requires the citing of divinity. Newscasters, victims and their families alike praise the powers above. This reassures us — of what?
That everybody knows the script.
That’s below the radar of wrong-doing even. It seems just lazy, intellectually and morally, to settle for safe, well-worn ruts of yesterday’s meaning that can’t go where tomorrow’s thinking needs to be, today.
(What’s the commercial shipping slogan, when it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight? Better not just bank on a miracle!)
We can do better.
NPR is no miracle yet in my view it defines intelligent narrative, good will and trustworthy use of language. Today I saw a good f’rinstance: seeking new words to make room for naturally growing thought, instead of allowing the old tightly bound narratives to deform new understanding as Chinese foot-binding once deformed naturally growing girls. So let’s sing its praises! 😉
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet. My question is, does it work the other way around? Does a fuzzy name make fish smell less fishy?
. . .. . .What Would You Call Attack-Ad Funders? . . .we put the question to you. What should we call these groups?
As you’ll appreciate if you’ve been snooking here awhile, answers always interest me of course. But the question! — ah, the interesting question is sheer poetry.
Today throughout the world, poetry often incorporates poetic form and diction from other cultures and from the past, further confounding attempts at definition and classification that were once sensible within a tradition such as the Western canon.
OTOH let’s be precise and acknowledge it would be a miracle indeed, if any human organization or institution were perfect, including NPR. Sigh. When it came time to update our understanding of self-governing “sanity” and to put modern meaning where their public lip service was, NPR wrongly failed to ask the most important questions right along with the rest of the news media and fell back on simplistic old pre-scripted cultural pasttimes we inherited but long ago outgrew, like ring around the rosey.
Which I’m sad to say, smells a bit fishy.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.