- Ada, Oklahoma


November 25, 2013

Just the facts, please; hold the metaphor

Ada —

Thursday afternoon while flipping channels, I kept noticing the words “nuclear option” on all the cable news networks.

The talking heads on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, etc., were bloviating worse than usual, as if there were actual news to break as opposed to the usual puff pieces in between pharmaceutical company ads. So I thought there might be some reason to pay attention.

Let me tell you what provoked this thought: the phrase “nuclear option.”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “nuclear option,” I tend to think of ICBMs air-bursting over my house. Hey, I was raised during the Cold War, when such fears were real and not unfounded.

I had forgotten, however, that we live not in the age of news reporting but in that of metaphor. We were never in any danger of nuclear war Thursday because no one was considering a “nuclear” anything.

What happened was, Senate Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” (whatever that means) by voting to change filibuster rules, making it easier for them to approve President Barack Obama’s judicial appointments.

It was a political story described in metaphorical terms.

This, to me, is not good journalism.

In one analysis of the story on CNN, two journalists went so far with the metaphorical language they got themselves confused about the topic in question. “I’m trying to think of a good metaphor to come back with,” Jeffrey Toobin said.

Speaking only for myself, let me say that I did not want either of those guys, or anyone on any cable news channel, speaking in metaphor about a fairly significant political story. Reporters deal in fact, not fiction; I don’t expect poetry when I turn on the news. Just give me the facts, straight. Otherwise, you run a real risk of trying to compare apples to oranges.

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