Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bad Reporting, Or Is It Bad Editing?

Here's the short new snippet of news I read in the ADN online today.  It's the whole piece they printed.
"Kirk apologizes to Duckworth for remark about Asian heritage   CHICAGO — Sen. Mark Kirk apologized to Rep. Tammy Duckworth on Friday for a comment he made about her family’s ancestry and military background during a debate in the Illinois Senate race on Thursday night.
   “Sincere apologies to an American hero, Tammy Duckworth, and gratitude for her family’s service,” Kirk posted on his official campaign Twitter account.
   The apology came less than 24 hours after the first-term Republican created a social media firestorm over his remark to the two-term Democratic congresswoman, who is challenging him for his Senate seat.
   At one point during the 90-minute debate at the University of Illinois at Springfield, Duck-worth talked about her family’s long history of involvement in the U.S. military, describing herself as a “daughter of the American Revolution” who has “bled for this nation.”
   When it was Kirk’s turn to offer a rebuttal, he offered a single sentence: 'I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.'”

So, what did you think?  That Kirk was a racist, sexist pig who damn well should have apologized?  Or maybe you thought his George Washington comment was kind of funny and that political corrections has gone too far?

Going back to the article.  What exactly is a "daughter of the American Revolution?"  Did she mean it  figuratively written with a small 'd'?   Or literally and it should have had a large 'D'?  Did Kirk think, like the writer, that she meant it with a small 'd' and did he think as an Asian-American she didn't really understand the cultural meaning of "Daughter of the American Revolution?"  It wouldn't be the first time a male publicly dismissed a woman's claims about herself.  Did he think that women with Asian features couldn't possibly be in the DAR?

All Americans have absorbed a certain amount of unconscious sexism and racism.  It just comes with the environment - with tv and movies, and with the images and comments we hear beginning with "Is it a boy or a girl?"  It affects what we do and think every day.  I'm infected like everyone else, but at least I'm aware of it.  That doesn't mean it still doesn't catch me off guard on a regular basis.

At the end of the article I caught the humor in his comment and I briefly entertained the idea that maybe forcing him to apologize for this was a bit much.  That's how internalized racism and sexism and other isms work.  They shape our assumptions and conclusions before we're even consciously aware of what we're thinking.   But then we have to catch ourselves, test our assumptions, and get more information.  Something wasn't right here.  So I found the video tape of this exchange.  It's short.  Here it is:

The part the ADN left out is at the end.  After she says "I'm a Daughter of the American Revolution . . ." After he then makes his crack. When the moderator throws it back to Duckworth.
Duckworth: [Laughs.]  "There've been members of my family serving in uniform on my father's side going back to the Revolution. I belong to the William J. Penny chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution."

That last sentence totally changes everything.  She really is a capital D "Daughter of the Revolution."  She does know what that means.  She isn't some culturally naive American in name only.  She's a US Congresswoman for crying out loud.  But the ADN left all that out.  And as I went back over the original story, I realize the small 'd' for 'daughters of the American Revolution" contributes to the idea that she was not actually claiming to be a member of the DAR but was speaking figuratively.  How is it that the writer did that?  Was it a typo?  Or did the original writer take it the way Kirk did?

The average reader probably doesn't know she has an American father.  A reader, whose unconscious is filled with the race stereotypes we all have,  could easily think, from the ADN account, that Kirk's remark was actually funny.  Kirk certainly did.   Given they're running against each other, he ought to know more about her than the average ADN reader.  He didn't believe she was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution or he wouldn't have made his sarcastic remark.   It's not inconceivable that many readers thought the way he did and concluded that his apology was forced by rampant political correctness.

To the extent that happened, it confirms to many people their notions of political correctness making a simple humorous comment into a crime.

I'd say the ADN contributed to any such misconceptions by leaving out the last quote and also with the small 'd' 'daughter of the American Revolution' in the story.  I know this story wasn't written by an ADN reporter, it came over from the national news wires.  But people taking those stories at the ADN have a responsibility to be careful about what they take and how they edit those stories so they don't leave out crucial information.

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