Dr. Bob Archive: “Formal can be good for journalism and politics”

Originally published Saturday, April 5, 2008 on Bob Arizona Republic Blog

Now that we’ve at least started to consider that “words have meaning,” I’d like to suggest that they also have consequences and effects.Unfortunately, many of my younger friends within the broadcast media seem oblivious to this and, for example, keep calling elected officials and candidates by their first names.

Bad idea.
As a people, we need the distance that formality creates if we are going to have a fighting chance of seeing through political and public relations spin machines.As much as campaigns work to “personalize” candidates, it would help if our media folks pushed back with some ‘old-school’ formality and consistency.
There is a reason why we used to call elected officials “Mr. President,” or “Governor,” or “Senator,” “Congressman,” etc.  instead of George, Janet, Hillary or Harry.
That little bit of formal semantic distance helps us see, hear and evaluate what they do, without the distraction of who they are and whether we like them or not.
The lack of such distance helps to create political results that are simply mindblowing with people voting for politicians who ‘seem like the kind of person you could have a beer with’ only to find out later that he’s an idiot doing harm to the country.
This is not to say that folks should not feel something for or about our elected leaders and those seeking office. We do and we will. But if our media institutions would stop encouraging our emotional responses with their informality and faux personalization of officials and candidates, I suspect that we, the people, could begin making better choices.


About Bob Grossfeld

Bob is a longtime political & public affairs strategist. Based in Phoenix, AZ he spends a great deal of his time doing guerrilla therapy for his fellow Arizonans before they succumb to the state's lunacy. The media calls on him frequently to help explain Arizona politics with a straight face.
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