Tuesday Dribblings

Your media at work: The AP covers itself in grammatical glory today in a story about the apparent Virginia Tech killer. First, in the lede of “Va. Tech Gunman Writings Raised Concerns,” (online at nytimes.com and Yahoo! News) says the suspected gunman “was identified Tuesday as a English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school’s counseling service.”

A couple graphs later, in perhaps a subtle effort to mock immigrant English, the story says Cho “arrived in the United States as boy from South Korea in 1992.”

In a separate story, meantime, Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker gets the prize for being the first to go on the record with this old standby of the crazy gunman oeuvre: “”He was a loner, and we’re having difficulty finding information about him.”

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2 Replies to “Tuesday Dribblings”

  1. My objection to the use of “loner” as a tag is just that — it’s a cliche, it’s lazy, and it offers nothing useful in helping understand the situation (another adjective I love encountering in these stories is “disturbed”; the Sun actually uses the phrase “disturbed loner,” which deserves special recognition). The problem with the media employing tags like that and other empty shorthand descriptions like that (for instance, “partisanship” in describing political debates in Washington) is that it offers readers a convenient shortcut past considering deeper, more complex realities in a story, or a life, or a debate. It’s no accident, either, that people like the Virginia Tech official employ terms like “loner”; in a sense, they’ve been trained to do that by reading and watching the “information” media; then, when they repeat the terms they’ve heard, that validates the media description and reinforces the cliche (make allowances for my being over-fastidious; that would be the tag that describes me).
    From what I’ve read, there are a lot of terms that could be substituted for “loner” that would be far more enlightening: angry, isolated, sullen, depressed, for starters. This morning, there’s a suggestion this kid had been accused of stalking women in the past and had been hospitalized for an emotional disturbance. What From reading the reports so far, I’d like to know is how he made it through four years of college in the state people say he was in.

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