Friday, August 26, 2016

The Bias of Opinion

Reporters gain their stature as insightful, reliable presenters of data and events, their reputations often based on how effective they are at conveying relevant, illuminating information. Narrators often create a likeness or approximation of events and their related data, at times inventing their production from the whole cloth of imagination.

The difference between the reporter and the narrator: each strives for a defining result. The reporter's result is accurate description of place and circumstances, the narrator's result is a plausible evocation of time, place, and the feelings of those involved.

The more the narrator strives, the less general and more biased and circumstantial the narration, The reporter, if successful, achieves approximation of descriptive objectivity by providing a few glimpses off witnessed detail. 

In the former case, the narrator, striving for that state often described as simulacrum or approximation, begins to reach for details he or she finds to have some personal resonance. This brings into play a risk of botched metaphor in the form of one of your most favored lines of poetry, the third line from John Keats' The Eve of St. Agnes," The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass.

The reporter is showing us how the evening was so cold, the hare was limping and trembling while making its way through the grass. The narrator will already have blown breath on his own hands to warm them while writing of the hare's journey out and about in the chill of that night. 

A line out of context from a poem becomes a report, but the opening stanzas of the poem give us the full narrative effect of the chilly night of which Keats wrote and the context as well as the temperature for the drama that was to come.

You could argue away some between-the-drinks conversation with the opening line to Dashiell Hammett's short story, "They Can only Hang You Once," which puts this information on the table:

"Sam Spade said, 'My name is Ronald Ames.' "

Report, narrative, or a mash-up of both? The first thing we learn about the character is a deliberate lie. If we already know who Sam Spade is, we are all the more intrigued by the immediacy of the subterfuge. Spade is working on a case, right?  Subtext, deception, and hidden agenda are tools in the narrator's toolkit.

At one time in your life, when you saw yourself as a reporter, you were alert for the vocabulary and proper filters to insure your descriptions would illuminate, but even as your interests in reporting grew, you found yourself eager to express the bias of opinion and, by fancy footwork and triangulation, attitude.

If the sort of objectivity called for in journalism represented Reality, then you wanted none of it or, at best, only enough to inform you of the events and attitudes thrumming about you, so that you could braid them into realities of their own. 

The difference between what you were reaching for and what you saw yourself in the process of becoming was the difference between the descriptive focus of the reporter and the evocative flair of narration. One does not tell in narration, one chooses events, details, and responses which convey the ashes and embers of fires that once raged.

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