Trope [trōp] noun From the Latin tropus, from Greek tropos turn, way, manner, style, trope, from trepein to turn
1 a: a word or expression used in a figurative sense : figure of speech b: a common or overused theme or device
One of the worst characteristics of the corporate press corps is its lazy reliance on pre-fabricated story lines as a substitute for thinking--on their part or their audience's.
FAIR has released its list of the Top Tropes of the 2008 Campaign, the most common story forms that the media typically will fit available information into, regardless of accuracy or appropriateness. They're a quick way to select, deflect, and shape the facts at hand to make a story--whether to serve an ideological purpose or simply to make a deadline. Often, the connections they make and the conclusions they draw, driven by the story form rather than the facts, will collapse and become incoherent after only a little scrutiny.
Many of them slant coverage and analysis toward the right, a reflection of years of right-wing pressure on the media combined with the fact that, increasingly, many of the story drivers are themselves wealthy celebrity journalists with a personal interest in the outcome of political stories, especially on economics.
Some of them simply slant coverage toward the dumb, for the simple reason that dumb takes less time and gets you out of the office and to the right cocktail parties on time.
Here's the short version of the list; for a fuller discussion, go here.
1. John McCain, Straight-Talking Maverick
Despite a recent voting record that makes him one of the Senate's most conservative lawmakers, the press has clung fiercely to the notion that, as U.S. News & World Report put it, "McCain is nothing if not a maverick."
2. Barack Obama, Elitist Snob
The media have singled out Senator Barack Obama, a multi-racial former community organizer raised by a single mom as an "elitist," rather than his Republican opponent, who is the son and grandson of four-star admirals and the husband of a multimillionaire, with New York Times columnist David Brooks going so far as to question whether Obama "know[s] anything about the way American people actually live."
3. The 'Smearing' of Sarah Palin
The nomination of Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin has given right-wing pundits the opportunity to perfect their well-worn technique of "working the refs" by complaining about liberal media bias in order to cow journalists into backing off.
4. John McCain, 'National Security Pro'
Despite the fact that Sen. John McCain's judgments and predictions about the key foreign policy issue of our time--the Iraq War--have frequently been way off base, it is widely accepted in the media that McCain has "vast foreign policy expertise and credibility on national security," as NBC anchor Brian Williams put it.
5. Shifting to the Right Is 'Smart Politics'
For years, the media's advice to Democratic politicians has remained the same: Move to the right to win. Much of the media enthusiasm for Obama has come when the candidate has made real or perceived rightward shifts, on issues like FISA wiretapping or trade policy.
6. Obama Wins, Sharpton/Jackson Lose
Since Obama emerged on the national political stage, some media figures have looked favorably at his ability to sideline African-American political figures the pundits just don't like. As Peter Beinart put it in the New Republic (2/5/07): "For many white Americans, it's a twofer. Elect Obama, and you not only dethrone George W. Bush, you dethrone Sharpton, too."
7. No War (in Campaign Coverage)!
With the media having adopted the notion that the troop "surge" in Iraq has worked, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have all but disappeared from the media's campaign coverage.
8. False Balance
Media "fact-check" reporting often bends over backwards to choose an equal number of falsehoods or distortions from each side--which can give voters a misleading impression of the prevalence of political lying when one side is obviously more guilty of exaggerations.
9. Misreading the Polls
Corporate journalists are notoriously obsessed with largely meaningless horserace polls that attempt to predict the outcome of elections; at the same time, they seem to have little interest in using polls for the one purpose they could actually serve--to check their own speculations about what people are thinking.
10. Fundraising Double Standards
Obama faced a significant backlash from the press over his decision not to accept public financing, but reporters were far less interested in the details of McCain's campaign fundraising.
11. Obama's Dubious Associates
When it comes to Obama's dubious "associates," it would seem no connection is too peripheral--or even nonexistent--to merit national media attention.