Alan Jacobs’ essay on war reportage has the twin virtues of acknowledging the vital role in war coverage of blogs (Command Post, Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan), and of shining a spotlight on the passive aggressive journalistic habit of using “scare” or “sneer” quotes:
- reading Fisk’s account, I noticed something else, which may be evident in the quotations below:
The Americans “liberated” Baghdad yesterday. . . .
Forgetting, too, that the “liberators” were a new and alien and all-powerful occupying force with neither culture nor language nor race nor religion to unite them with Iraq. . .
But tanks come in two forms: the dangerous, deadly kind and the “liberating” kind. . . .
Nor did the Americans look happy “liberators.” . . .
Of course, the Americans knew they would get a good press by “liberating” the foreign journalists at the Palestine Hotel. . . .
President Bush will come here and there will be new “friends” of America to open a new relationship with the world, new economic fortunes for those who “liberated” them.
All this (and more!) in an article of less than 2,000 words. I don’t know–is it just me, or do you think maybe Fisk doubts that what has happened in Baghdad is really and truly liberation?
Reflecting on this attack of punctuational Tourette’s Syndrome, I started looking back through recent magazines and websites, and I discovered that among opponents of the war use of scare quotes (or “sneer quotes,” as they are sometimes and with equal justice called) has become epidemic. What could be the cause of such an outbreak?
….It would be interesting to discover what would happen to some of these writers if they were denied the use of this device. I’m afraid Fisk could be reduced to spit-flecked stammers (as, so often, is Krusty) when I look at another April 7 piece in which he writes of the “coalition forces,” of “embedded” journalists, of the “securing” of the city of Basra, even of “war in Iraq”–each phrase senselessly scare-quoted. (“This is an invasion, not a mere war,” he insists, making a claim I cannot for the life of me see the point of. All I know is that if he had heard George W. Bush call it an invasion Fisk would roundly proclaim “This is a war, not a mere invasion.”) Our intrepid reporters might have to start actually thinking about the events they describe, instead of merely reacting against anything said by Bush or Blair or CENTCOM. And surely such thinking is a task well within the capacity of “journalists” given, by some of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, the job of “reporting” on this war. [Weekly Standard]
Co-opting meaning via snide negation conveys nothing but petulance and a reflexive conceptual void: perhaps this is all there ultimately is at the heart of the hardcore anti-liberation worldview. Very sad.