Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the Cryptic and the Elliptic

WISDOM FROM G.K. Chesterton:
When a statesman or philosopher makes an important speech, there are several courses which the reporter might take without being unreasonable. Perhaps the most reasonable course of all would be not to report the speech at all. Let the world live and love, marry and give in marriage, without that particular speech, as they did (in some desperate way) in the days when there were no newspapers. A second course would be to report a small part of it; but to get that right. A third course, far better if you can do it, is to understand the main purpose and argument of the speech, and report that in clear and logical language of your own...

The present method is this: the reporter sits listening to a tide of words which he does not try to understand, and does not, generally speaking, even try to take down; he waits until something occurs in the speech which for some reason sounds funny, or memorable, or very exaggerated, or, perhaps, merely concrete; then he writes it down and waits for the next one...

Most of us, I suppose, know Mark Antony's Funeral Speech in “Julius Cæsar.” Now Mark Antony would have no reason to complain if he were not reported at all; if the Daily Pilum or the Morning Fasces, or whatever it was, confined itself to saying, “Mr. Mark Antony also spoke,” or “Mr. Mark Antony, having addressed the audience, the meeting broke up in some confusion.” The next honest method, worthy of a noble Roman reporter, would be that since he could not report the whole of the speech, he should report some of the speech. He might say—“Mr. Mark Antony, in the course of his speech, said—
‘When that the poor have cried Cæsar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.’”
In that case one good, solid argument of Mark Antony would be correctly reported. The third and far higher course for the Roman reporter would be to give a philosophical statement of the purport of the speech. As thus—“Mr. Mark Antony, in the course of a powerful speech, conceded the high motives of the Republican leaders, and disclaimed any intention of raising the people against them; he thought, however, that many instances could be quoted against the theory of Cæsar's ambition, and he concluded by reading, at the request of the audience, the will of Cæsar, which proved that he had the most benevolent designs towards the Roman people.” That is (I admit) not quite so fine as Shakspere, but it is a statement of the man's political position. But if a Daily Mail reporter were sent to take down Antony's oration, he would simply wait for any expressions that struck him as odd and put them down one after another without any logical connection at all...
— from the essay ON THE CRYPTIC AND THE ELLIPTIC, in the book All Things Considered.

Journalism ought to present the facts regarding those in power in a timely, accessible, accurate, and lively manner. However, journalism in what Chesterton called the “modern, progressive, or American manner,” as found in our major media outlets, is considerably less than this.

Consider the recent controversy over Pope Benedict's new book. What is reported, nearly the only thing that is reported, is what fits in with the goal of finalization of the sexual revolution. They say that Pope Benedict now agrees with them. Of course, we have a clarification from Vatican Radio: Pope Benedict does not mean what the reporters say.

Rather Pope Benedict is calling for conversion — something we all have to do, myself included, or else we will suffer the consequences of our actions.


By analogy, it is morally commendable if an armed robber does not shoot his victims as well as robbing them. But that doesn't make armed robbery itself commendable.

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