“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

(AP) Murder no Longer Fatal to Citizens Residents

On Tuesday, November 20, the Associated Press ran the tragic story of a Senegalese doctoral student shot to death in Chicago. Strangely it was titled “Student Slain to Death near U of Chicago.”

This author has had some run-ins with AP style, which we shall get to in a moment, but the AP may really be pushing the boundaries of whether being slain leads to anything other than death. I do not ever recall having seen someone “slain to critical condition,” or “brutally slain but recovering nicely.”

This could be another of those sloppy headlines that are occurring with more frequency with the decline of journalistic standards, or it could be an effort by the AP to redefine our language. Slain just doesn’t mean what it used to. You may be slain but you’re not quite dead yet unless you’re pronounced really, really, completely, indubitably, officially dead. Editors have since caught the gaff and changed the headline to “Killed to Death.”

And now to the trivial. Back in July The Nose invited yours truly to write a
letter to the paper wondering whether he would hold the City Commissioners to the same ethical “smell test” as he had Joe Kirkwood. There was a tussle over whether such a politically sensitive missive to such an unbiased media outlet might be altered, and indeed it was not only abridged, but certain changes were made, most notably in the following paragraph:

“During the recent election campaign some residents expressed concern that officials voting on downtown revitalization could involve a conflict of interest for those having direct or indirect ownership of property or control of downtown investments. This issue was put to Kanelis both publicly on the Internet and by private communication.”
“Residents” in the original had been “citizens,” and this change was made because, according to the Associated Press Style Book, citizens are members of nations, while residents are members of states and cities.1 Curiously only two months earlier The Nose had written a column about the Bushland Independent School District’s bond issue and Superintendent John Lemons’ efforts, using this phrase:

“Lemons and other citizens committed to supporting the bond issue have the correct answer to that criticism.”

Are we to believe that Bushland holds the lofty rank of nation? Or could it be that the AP Style Book, meant for professionals working for the newspaper, is not followed by “professionals” but instead is applied to writers who are not beholden to the AP Style Book? The Nose has not snuffled on this one.

Citizens are political beings, and there are more substantial reasons for turning them into occupants than journalistic “style.” The editors of the Amarillo Globe-News have long heaped scorn on the citizens of Amarillo for their political apathy, but then ridiculed and misrepresented any political interests they have shown, and mocked the engagement (neighborhood meetings and hearings) between government and citizenry that is part of the democratic process. Even the rebukes against voter apathy seem written to reinforce that voter apathy, not encourage more political participation.

There are times when the AGN seems outright hostile to democracy, or rather supportive of a “democracy” that is best kept confined to those who know what’s best for everyone else. The electorate can be a nuisance, particularly when they don’t see things the paper’s way, so it’s best the electorate only knows what you want them to know. Why have voters anyway? We only need a leadership that John can lavish praise on.

Changing one word is but a small sign of a larger attitude, of allegiance to the city’s corporate and political elite and betrayal of the wider community. By changing “citizens” to “residents” Kanelis stripped an entire people of their citizenship and nullified their political participation. With one word Kanelis reduced concerned citizens to little more than tenants living in their overlords’ domain. What style!

JQK you slay me.

1Merriam-Webster and Random House both allow citizens to be inhabitants of states and towns, but the AP apparently just has to be contrarian.