Posted by Wordsmith on 1 April, 2015 at 11:44 am. 6 comments already!


The Federalist:

This past week, journalistic abuse has exploded into controversy over an innocuous religious freedom law in Indiana. This law, known as a Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA (pronounced “riff-ra”), tracks the language of the 1993 federal RFRA signed into law by President Clinton after a 97-3 vote in the Senate. But you would not necessarily know how innocuous it is from news media coverage. According to what you might hear in the news, this is an anti-gay law that is “almost universally loathed,” and which a White House official suggested would “legitimize discrimination.”

Indiana’s RFRA has none of these characteristics.

There is in works of fiction a concept called the informed attribute. An informed attribute is an abuse of storytelling that occurs when the author gets lazy and, instead of demonstrating that a character has a certain characteristic, simply informs the audience that they do. So, for example, think of the way Daniel Defoe characterized Friday in “Robinson Crusoe”: savage, cannibal—except that Friday never does anything savage or cannibal throughout the novel. Indeed, “my man Friday” is now a euphemism for an incorruptible subordinate. Or, to use a more recent example, consider that in the Twilight novels, we are told that Bella is a loner who is older than her years—except she is always surrounded by friends whom she can’t seem to get enough of, and she has a teenager-like obsession with a certain boyish vampire who she wants to bone. These are informed attributes. The indispensable TV Tropes explains the informed attribute arises through a “violation of Show, Don’t Tell when fleshing out a fictional tangible.”

Lately, there has been a depressing tendency for the informed attribute to migrate from fiction to journalism. It has popped up when journalists cover President Obama—so heroic!, despite the fact he has never done anything particularly heroic. It is inescapable in news media coverage of the Tea Party—racists! villains!, even though the Tea Party is neither. Even Gov. Chris Christie has taken licks for it—gauche nouveau riche!. Despite there being no evidence for these attributes, journalists will simply repeat them as if they were true and hope that incurious, unsuspecting readers assume it.

Fortunately for the news consumer, if not consumers of fiction, an informed attribute in journalism can be overcome with the application of a little knowledge. Here is everything you need to know to push back against the laziness or maliciousness in the news about RFRAs.

Read on. FYI: Gabriel Malor is an attorney and writer in Washington, D.C….and for what it’s worth, is gay.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x