August 24, 2006

Today's Object of Intense Vilification!

Pretty much the usual thing. I've posted about this before, "this" being the seeming necessity of newspaperpersons to work in some sort of gratuitous reference to something perceived as evil by the members who sit within their little coffee klatch, even if it really doesn't have much of a relationship to the actual story. The one that always seem to catch my eye are the stories about SUVs.

The general bias of folks in the nattering trades seems to be that anything SUV related is automatically suspect, and more likely than not the source of evil, what with their gas-guzzling [evil--Bush Oil Halliburton] and ponderousness [evil, like obesity] in hauling [evil--should be using public transport instead of hauling your own stuff like some rustic rube, unless he's a rube who is a union cabbage picker] suburban [evil--surburan sprawl] soccer moms [evil--implies subservience to a bygone lifestyle of feminine unliberation, although this one is slightly less obnoxious to them because it involves soccer, which is popular in socialist dictatorships] to nail appointments [evil--product of tax cuts for wealthy]. All this despite the fact that the definition of an SUV includes even such tiny and relatively fuel-efficient things as Honda CR-Vs and Toyota RAV-4s, and despite the fact that as a type, SUVs have become every other vehicle on the road. It's really not a big deal to see one. Never has been, as a matter of fact. (Until it was decided they were evil.)

ANYWAY, I was looking through the news and saw another example: 9 hurt when SUV plows into N.Y. market

Ooooh. Evil plowing SUVs. "Plowing" no--that's not a loaded term, is it? [Rubes plow, you know. Unless they've been bought out by an evil Big Farm conglomerate. Which are actually okay if they make ethanol.] And, as we mention, SUV hasn't become a code word at all. (He wrote sarcastically.) We now read the story, which is scant:

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — A sport utility vehicle driven by an 83-year-old man plowed into pedestrians and vendors at a public market on Thursday, injuring eight people.

The driver lost control when his foot apparently slipped off the brake and hit the accelerator, and the vehicle rammed through at least eight food stalls at the Rochester Public Market, police Chief David Moore said.

At least one person suffered serious injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

The car ended up in a shed, and firefighters had to extract the driver, the police chief said. He said the driver's injuries appeared to be minor.

That's it.

Now what purpose did it serve to say he was driving an SUV? In this story, there is nothing to indicate the type of vehicle had anything at all to do with the incident. In fact, a more telling proximate cause might be the age of the driver, and the fact that his foot slipped off the brake. Older drivers seem to be more prone to this, but even then, it's not outside the realm of possibility for ANYone to have this happen. Even if the person is NOT driving an SUV. To further point out the utter unseriousness of this tactic is the fact that the story itself calls the vehicle as both a sport utility vehicle AND a car.

What's the story here, journalism grads?

The fact that several people at a market got injured when a driver lost control of his vehicle and hit them.

Accidents like this can happen to anyone driving anything, so to continue to refer to the type of vehicle in a way that implies it is somehow pertinent to why the event happened, WITHOUT GIVING ANY FURTHER details, smacks of simply playing to emotionalism and fear about an inanimate object. It MIGHT be interesting if he was driving something that wasn't as ubiquitous as an SUV--a fire truck or ambulance he'd stolen, perhaps--but in this case it appears the type of vehicle is meaningless.

So quit trying to score brownie points in whatever little I-wanna-win-a-Pulitzer clique you've got going on there, and quit offering up prejudicial references that serve no other purpose than to provide a way for the reporter to passively state his opinion diguised as news.

Better headline: "Driver loses control, injures self and 8 others at NY market." If you simply cannot resist specifying the type of vehicle in the story, give all the information--make, model and year.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at August 24, 2006 12:51 PM

I had no idea there was a category of Pulitzers for "Best Traffic Accident Reporting in Rochester, NY."

Also, if they actually condensed the whole story into the one sentence you composed, they'd have to spend the rest of their days doing something more useful. Like sitting in a corner counting the ceiling tiles in the newsroom over & over.

Posted by: skinnydan at August 24, 2006 12:57 PM

And the thing is, they act like counting ceiling tiles is beneath them. I've just recounted mine, and have forty-six.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at August 24, 2006 01:04 PM

I want to know what it is about old folks and public markets. This seems to happen often. Is it a form of terrorist attack?

Posted by: jim at August 24, 2006 01:23 PM

Personally? I believe it is a combination of being in an unfamiliar place, becoming distracted by the surroundings, not knowing how to react if something goes wrong, and the general motor skill decline that occurs with age.

Unfamiliarity and distractions can cause you forget what you're doing or not be as cautious as you might otherwise be--you might be thinking of how to get out of the parking lot or a thousand other things, and not realize what you're doing with the car. Public places are full of unfamiliarity and distractions. And PEOPLE. If you have a collision in your garage, it's usually just you and the insurance guy who find out, but in public, EVERYone finds out.

If something DOES go wrong, people have a tendency to freeze up. If their foot's on the gas, well, it STAYS on the gas. This isn't something anyone practices for, and the fear when something unforeseen happens can have very bad consequences. (A tip--if you're pressing hard on what you think is the brake and the car's going faster--STOP PRESSING ON WHATEVER IT IS YOU'VE GOT YOUR FOOT ON!)

Which goes on over into reaction time--even young people can have impaired reaction if they don't know WHAT to do, and this is even more so if your reaction time has slowed. By the time you figure out what to do, you might have already careened several hundred feet before being able to fix it.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at August 24, 2006 01:40 PM