Empirical Content Analyses of News Coverage
Data Evaluation and Findings: Rhetoric Across the Mass Media Text Types
Traditionally, rhetoric is seen as the art of public speaking, and is closely related to other arts. As a persuasive concept it can be traced back to classical political speech. This investigation will show our sample evaluation of New York Times articles from the first quarter of the year 2008. Negative connotations for the concept of rhetoric are not new, and the prevailing dominance of logic and rational approaches are seen as opposed to rhetoric. What is interesting in this case is that the linguistic setting of meanings of rhetoric establish a homogeneous image of rhetoric as a part of politics in the mass media. Rhetoric is not understood here as a common tool for communication. On the contrary, rhetoric appears as the individualized speech of an individual speaker. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the practice of 'free speech.' Does rhetorical speech, with its negative associations in the journal here considered, run contrary to the free speech established as a fundamental value of that republic?
Surprisingly, Hickman and Bartlett (2002) write that the language of the journalists is as contents not suitable for an empirical content analysis: "Empirical content analyses of news coverage tend not to result in straightforward findings because they are the products of an investigation of the language employed by reporters and editors whose primary task in the commercial news business is to make news entertaining. Achieving objectivity and neutrality in news coverage are secondary tasks of commercial news journalism. And achieving consistency and precision in the use of descriptive language are clearly not tasks that command the attention of reporters and editors."
We cannot subscribe to this statement of resignation regarding empirical approaches towards the language of mass media. Our method is 1. a diachronic survey analyzing the preference of text types associated with rhetoric and 2. a linguistic contrastive analysis regarding the findings compared to common definitions of rhetoric. Finally, we will discuss the historical heritage of the ancient rhetorical system and the changes in the mass media texts. For the approach in a diachronic study across different text types in the New York Times we can separate between hard news covered in sections of topics such as U.S., World, and Arts, soft news, and opinion writing. Hard news is descriptive covering the basic elements of the event (the W-questions), soft news is narrative, and opinion writing is an argumentative text type.
Differences between the Values of the System and the Contemporary Estimation of Rhetoric
Within the rhetorical system, the speech itself is considered an action as performance of the speaker. Obviously, the action of speaking is considered not an action or an action performed towards the audience, while a lack of other actions exist. Rhetoric as subject of political speech was part of the Greek democracy. Aristotle in his Rhetoric (Book 1., chapter 1.) wrote: “I. Rhetoric is a counterpart of dialectic; for both have to do with matters that are in a manner within the cognizance of all men and not confined to any special science. Hence all men in a manner have a share of both; for all, up to a certain point, endeavor to criticize or uphold an argument, to defend themselves or to accuse. Now, the majority of people do this either at random or with a familiarity arising from habit. But since both these ways are possible, it is clear that matters can be reduced to a system, for it is possible to examine the reason why some attain their end by familiarity and others by chance; and such an examination all would at once admit to be the function of an art.” In other words: Rhetoric is according to Aristotle ubiquitously employed even when the speaker is not aware of it. In the Merriam-Websters Online Dictionary rhetoric has the main definitions art of speaking or writing effectively either as the ‘study of principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient times or’ as the study of writing or ‘speaking as a means of communication or persuasion. The second definition is a skill in the effective use of speech or a type or mode of language or speech (insincere or grandiloquent language). The last definition equalizes rhetoric with verbal communication and discourse. Logan and Fischer-Wright (2006) suggested a new definition for rhetoric: “The means through which one creates and populates worlds of meaning (language-based realities.” This definition focusing on the pragmatic dimension of rhetoric would better fit for the findings than traditional definitions. Steven Mailloux in Rhetorical Power (1989: 12) defined rhetoric as “the political effectiveness of trope and argument in culture.” In 1789 The Declaration of the Rights of Man of the French Revolution provided freedom of speech. In 1791 The First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights guaranteed freedoms of religion, speech, the press, and the right to assemble. Declaring a position or a personal speech as `mere rhetoric` in the mass media also has the effect that it is eliminated from its impact on reality in accordance with the simplified understanding of rhetoric. Balkin (2004) argued that digital technologies “alter the social conditions of speech and therefore should change the focus of free speech theory from a Meiklejohnian or republican concern with protecting democratic process and democratic deliberation to a larger concern with protecting and promoting a democratic culture. A democratic culture is a culture in which individuals have a fair opportunity to participate in the forms of meaning - making that constitute them as individuals. Democratic culture is about individual liberty as well as collective self-governance; it concerns each individual's ability to participate in the production and distribution of culture.” Kairys (1998) mentioned that “in the last few decades, the Supreme Court has narrowed and restricted the speech rights available to people of ordinary means, enlarged the speech rights available to wealthy people and corporations, and erected a free-speech barrier to public access to the media and to important electoral, economic and social reforms.”
A Text Type Model for Journalism
White in his thesis Telling Media Tales: The News Story as Rhetoric (1998) explored the rhetorical properties of the modern news report presenting the argument that “linear, syntagmatic models of text structure of the type developed previously for analysis of, for example, the narrative are unable to account for the functionality of these news reports. An alternative ‘orbital’ model of textuality is presented by which relationships of specification are seen to operate between a central textual nucleus and dependent satellites.” Journalism has many features similar to rhetoric. In the job skills of the journalist we find similarities to the officia of the rhetoric: Researching and documention (inventio, invention), organizing and planning (dispositio, disposition), style and editing (elocutio, elocution), and presentation of the speech (actio, performance). Our text type model relies on the compability of rhetorical topology with text types and journatistic applied text production. Text types are used as means to differentiate between basic functions of texts. Genres are related to a specific medium' for example literary or visual genres exist. Text types can be differentiated and attributed to news as follows:
Text Type Relation Question Function News
Descriptive Object Who? What? Reporting Hard News
Narrative Event What? Reporting Soft News
Argumentative Audience To Whom? Persuasion Opinion
Expositional Procedure How? Instruction
Text Types and Categories of Journalism
A comprehensive review of concepts and discussion about text types and genres was made by Lee (2001). The questions used in journalism to describe the event are:
This set of questions can be traced back to the doctrine of stasis and the topoi used to find arguments in the ancient rhetorical system.
Who? What? How? (in which channel?) To Whom?
This set of questions can be traced back to the doctrine of stasis in
the ancient rhetorical system. Also the Laswell-formula derived from
it. In journalism the questions are the smallest descriptive units
for the news. A journalistic text can contain
descriptive, narrative, and argumentative parts. Traditionally, text
type studies make correlations between functions of text types and
the literary form, as in the following selection for journalism:
Essay /Opinion Argumentative /Narrative
Commentary /Opinion Argumentative Argumentatio
Critique / Opinion Argumentative Argumentatio
Story / Soft News Narrative Narratio
Hard News Descriptive Initium
Forms of Journalism and Functions
Besides this classical schema of exclusive text type structures we must assume that descriptive, narrative, argumentative, and in some cases even expositional. The following study will demonstrate the correlation between text types and their function.
Empirical Preferences of Text Types: Correlation between Text Type and Rhetoric
The Data in this study come from a survey taken in the time between March 16 and January 16 2008 from the New York Times Archive. The New York Times as a daily newspaper with internet presence covers all classical sections of a newspaper. The dominance of the term rhetoric in specific sections can be explained historically with the fields rhetoric covered. The highest density of news using rhetoric we find in the opinion writings (argumentative text type), the political news of the U.S. and international news and the section of arts. Texts of these sections we can classify either as narrative or argumentative text types). We will later on demonstrate that the line between these text types in journalism is thin and take the example of the term rhetoric in order to demonstrate how narrative and descriptive text types become argumentative text types. Purely descriptive text types (e.g. weather forecast) have no or a minimal number of sentences using rhetoric.
Distribution of the Topic Rhetoric in Sections of the New York Times
Time Frame: 16th of March to 16th of January 2008
Source: New York Times Archive
Distribution of the Topic Rhetoric in Sections of the New York Times
Time Frame: March 19, 2008 to 1981.
Source: New York Times Archive
Findings of the Text Type Analysis
Data in the examined text corpus and common understanding and historical definitions are different in terms of the estimation of rhetoric. The preference of the New York Times to use the term rhetoric in text types traditionally associated with rhetoric is obvious. Rhetoric, used in a variety of compounds, is employed as a neologism and this stylistic trope indicates that the text corpus itself contains rhetoricity. None of the texts used a deeper analysis of the rhetoric, which was described or demonstrated any relation between the term employed and the concept of rhetoric.
Meanings and Functions of the Compounds of Rhetoric
General associations with the word rhetoric are:
- Useless Speech
- Negative speech about someone/something, a lie
- Standing in opposition to an action
replacing action where action should be taken
- Personal speech style, a person has a specific way to speak
- A way to speak that is biased
- Polemical speech
The newspaper separates into different kinds of rhetoric that are ad hoc built compounds with an associated meaning and connotation. The use of ad hoc compounds in newspapers and magazines is a kind of slang in a profession, but also picks up the slang of the object of the news, in our case politicians. These ad hoc compounds are created and not available in contemporary dictionaries. They consist of the noun rhetoric plus an adjective or a noun set in front of the noun rhetoric. Some of them have the prefix anti- followed by adjective or noun making the kind of rhetoric evident.
Anti-immigration rhetoric Negative speech about someone/something
Obama-esque rhetoric Personal speech style,
a person has a specific way to speak
Negatively connoted phrases are:
Mere rhetoric Useless Speech
Example of Ad hoc Compounds in the New York Times
In the article Obama, Drawing Criticism On Two Fronts, Fires Back (NYT. February 21, 2008) ironically good words are considered and interpreted as rhetoric equal to empty rhetoric:“ In a speech on Wednesday at Hunter College in Manhattan, she said Mr. Obama was running on a thin résumé and empty rhetoric. ''It's time we moved from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions,'' Mrs. Clinton said.” In Decoding Lebanese Paranoia (NYT. February 17, 2008) the term mere rhetoric is used: “More than mere rhetoric, they (accusations, F.H.) quickly congeal into conflicting versions of history, often with bloody consequences.” The claims resulting from our research in the statistical distribution of this term used in the New York Times and its difference from the traditional and contemporary generally accepted meanings for the term can be described as follows: The meanings of a term and the traditional and contemporary generally accepted meaning of this term can vary. The term rhetoric is connoted negatively. A correlation between the text type and the use and meanings of the term exist. In most of the sections of the newspaper the term rhetoric is employed for political news, opinion writing, and arts. On a level of reminiscence, the concept rhetoric conveys itself in a form suitable for the needs of journalistic writing.
The newspaper text of the hard news is generally a descriptive one referencing the 5 W-questions. We can consider these questions as topoi for the narration and argumentation of the whole text. The use of ad hoc built compounds is an argumentative element in the discursive and/or narrative structure of the text. Instead of an argumentative discourse, the text has here a judging function. The ad hoc compound contains and presents a judgment about the speaker/person or institution. In the form of the compound presented, it is classified under rhetorical principles a neologism. With the use of the term rhetoric a narrative and argumentative element enters the hard news. The writer can this way implement meanings and opinions about the person. These opinions can be his/her own or as a cliché it references a common estimation. Rhetoric as conduct of speech is in the article Democratic Candidates Emphasize Need for Unity (NYT. February 17, 2008) used when stating that “(…) Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama on Saturday night cooled their rhetoric and reminded Democrats of their fight ahead.” In the U.S. news section mainly rhetoric is used to indicate a personal quality and way to speak. The article Reaching Out, Paterson Offers Different Tone (NYT. March 14, 2008) uses the term rhetoric as a personal style of a politician: “But in some areas, Mr. Paterson seemed more inclined to revise Mr. Spitzer’s rhetoric rather than his policies.” In the resort local NewYork news in the article Our Towns; The Tightrope of Promising A Genuine Transformation (NYT. February 10, 2008) is written: Mr. Booker was able to boast that in his first full year in office he had made progress in living up to his Obama-esque rhetoric. Most important was his signature issue, crime.” The article Rhetoric: High; Anxiety: Low (NYT. March 1, 2008) uses the expression “the heated rhetoric in Washington about the government's wiretapping powers” for a public discourse. Political issues can also be used for the indication of rhetoric. In the article Counting Heads; The Border And The Ballot Box (NYT. March 2, 2008) is written: “It's hard, in fact, to see how a single 2008 Republican candidate benefited from anti-immigration rhetoric.” In Issues Start Rush to Citizenship by Hispanics (NYT. February 5, 2008) a politician is cited using the term with the connotation also used in the New York Times: “''The hard-line rhetoric on immigration is turning off all Latinos,'' said Lionel Sosa, a Republican advertising executive in San Antonio (…)”.One finding is that the system of rhetoric even in the minimalized reference system of text types in a newspaper can be re-constructed. If the style of the news is a rhetorical one employing neologisms, the text is not neuter. It has a rhetorical impact. In the World section rhetoric is employed for the characterization of international politicians and groups regarding their intentions in speeches. In Paisley to Retire From Northern Ireland Posts (NYT. March 5, 2008) the politician is characterized by “his fire-and-brimstone rhetoric”. In Settling of Crisis Makes Winners of Andes Nations, While Rebels Lose Ground (NYT. March 9, 2008) FARC is described as a “group resembling a criminal syndicate that dresses up its actions in leftist rhetoric.” In Serbia Is Warned by Europe To Deter Embassy Attacks (NYT. February 23, 2008) “senior European Union officials said they were increasingly alarmed by the nationalist rhetoric of some Serbian politicians, which they said was helping to incite violence.” In A Fragil Economy Raises Pressure on Iran's Rulers (NYT. February 3, 2008) the term “anti-Western rhetoric” is employed. One of the functions is directed towards the audience. When an opinion is expressed, the reader can accept it or not. The difficult and problematic state of the use of such compounds results from its character as cliché and its enigmatic or simplified meaning. For our example above we just have to ask some questions to see the lack of sharpness of the term: What is 'anti-Western rhetoric'? Is the West identical with the U.S.? Does it mean that all Western civilization is attacked in such a speech? Here we reach the enigmatic meaning of the compound. If the context is not visible e.g. in an interview, we can hardly discuss the meaning of the phrase. Traditionally, rhetoric is neither classified as good or bad. A deviation from the neuter definition of the word rhetoric we find in the connoted meanings and use of the term. In the Opinion and Op Ed sections the term rhetoric is used for sentences, short meaningful sayings. In the Opinion/Letters section in Can Democrats Stop Their Squabbling? (NYT. March 13, 2008) the term blind rhetoric is used: “If you substitute “unpatriotic” with “divisive,” you get the same blind rhetoric that’s ruled the White House for eight years.” In the Op-Ed section in Grand Old Protectionists (NYT. March 6, 2008) “President Reagan's open-markets rhetoric” is mentioned. In the Editorial in Vladimir Putin's Russia (NYT. February 27, 2008) is written: “Descending back into cold war rhetoric and reflexes will not help anyone.” In the Op-Ed section in Russia's Last Hope (February 29, 2008) is written: “Now, at least, they limit themselves for the most part to negative rhetoric about the West. So there is progress.” The term rhetoric is like an image decoded with associations the reader cannot decode totally. Ruhrmann, Sommer, and Sassenberg (2007) defined the Linguistic Intergroup Bias (LIB) as the "tendency to describe positive ingroup and negative outgroup behaviors in more abstract linguistic categories than negative ingroup and positive outgroup behavior. It leads to a more abstract linguistic representation of undesirable aspects compared to desirable ones in describing outgroups and vice versa for the ingroup." In our case the abstract linguistic concept is a negative connoted attribute. It is applied to both national and international persons. The behavior described as rhetoric is negatively connotated as antithesis of the concept 'action'. It can be interpreted as a general political criticism expecting actions instead of speech. In the second specific case a way of speaking is considered as persuasive and hostile. A similarity of the LIB is that the negative behaviour is described with an abstract concept without a sufficient reference to the concept.
Rhetoric vs. action is a general opposition in the political writings of the New York Times. The journalists can even in hard news implement a negatively connotated word in order to make a commentary. While the term is employed as a depicted attribute of persons in the news section, the editorial uses it in sentences and sayings as a commentary of hard news. In the Editorial section in Still Waiting to Seize the Moment (NYT. January 12, 2008) this statement appeared: “Rhetoric is, of course, better than nothing -- especially after Mr. Bush spent seven years refusing to get involved.” The difference between words (verba) and things (res) is the main aspect of rhetoric since ancient times. The U.S. American proverb 'Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk' indicates the esteem of a separation between action and speech. Rhetoric as a canon of speaking came to the U.S. from Europe. Rhetoric had a place in the writing programs of the colleges and universities. Here it is only a substitute for the composition of writings in the English language in ancient rhetoric covered by the field of disposition (dispositio) and elocution (elocutio). Obviously beyond this field the estimation turns to a negatively connotated set of associations.
The Perspective of the Mass Media
The Position of the NewYork Times Regarding Rhetoric
Taking the example of the writings in the New York Times the use of rhetoric as a connoted word is part of a reference system:
1. Reference to the object (person/institution)
2. Reference to opinion (writer/the medium/the audience)
In Is Eloquence Overrated? Theodore C. Sorensen, the speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, was cited with a definition of political rhetoric as ''Speaking from the heart, to the heart, directly, not too complicated, relatively brief sentences, words that are clear to everyone.' For the writer of the article, Peter Applebome,” Obama's rise has shown the power of effective political speech, it has also shown how much the form continues to evolve and how tantalizingly imprecise the link remains between a great political speech and a great political career.” Applebome mentions John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster as ‘spellbinding orators’ versed in classical rhetoric that failed to be elected president. Martin Luther King Jr.'s ''I Have a Dream'' speech in 1963, followed by John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address in 1933, and his declaration of war on Dec. 8, 1941 are considered to be among the most important U.S. speeches besides the oratory of Ronald Reagan. Applebome cites that the general level of rhetorical skills has fallen so far, a conclusion from David Zarefsky, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University’ regarding the reactions of Obama`s speeches. Sorensen supports Obama`s speeches. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that Obama`s best speeches were examples of epideictic or ceremonial rhetoric opposed to the deliberative language of policymaking or the forensic language. Jamieson notes that traditional political rhetoric is a declining art. If the perspective of the mass media in our case, the use of the concept rhetoric in news an a descriptive way to write about an event and a person, shows no congruence with the standard definitions of rhetoric and its historical meanings, we must ask:
Which perspective has the news paper/the writer of the news?
Which aim(s) does the text have?
Actually, the texts described above connote specific meanings about a person and the person's estimation when using the term rhetoric. In some of the cases the meaning reflects the perspective of the person regarding a topic and the perspective of the writer (double-decoded). The function and the perspective of the writer towards the person is also a selective perspective from the news favoring the event as the (hard) news or 'news in nuce'. A speech can be also further analyzed or cited in the news. But when this is not done, it might be presented as 'rhetoric'. The texts employ different aims and the writing of the hard news has also an argumentative impact. The reliance of the New York Times on academic sources for the classification of contemporary politican sources shows that the awareness and knowledge of the tradition of rhetorical speech among public writers is rudimentary done at random.
Articles New York Times
Applebome, Peter. “Is Eloquence Overrated?” New York Times. January 13, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Applebome, Peter. “Our Towns; The Tightrope of Promising A Genuine Transformation.” New York Times. February 10, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Bosman, Julie and Jeff Zeleny.”Democratic Candidates Emphasize Need for Unity.” New York Times. February 17, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Burns, John F. “Paisley to Retire From Northern Ireland Posts”. New York Times.March 5, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Castle, Stephen and Dan Bilefsky “Serbia Is Warned by Europe To Deter Embassy Attacks.” New York Times. February 23, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Confessore, Nicholas. “Reaching Out, Paterson Offers Different Tone”. New York Times. March 14, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Editorial. “Still Waiting to Seize the Moment”. New York Times. January 12, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Editorial. “Vladimir Putin's Russia”. New York Times. February 27, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Erofeyev, Victor. “Russia's Last Hope”. New York Times. February 29, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Kennedy, Randy. “Texas”. New York Times. March 4, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Leonhardt, David. “Counting Heads; The Border And The Ballot Box”. New York Times. March 2, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/weekinreview/02leonhardt.html?_r=1&scp=37&sq=rhetoric&st=nyt&oref=login>
Lichtblau, Eric. “Rhetoric: High; Anxiety: Low”. New York Times. March 1, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Lighthizer, Robert E. “Grand Old Protectionists”. New York Times. March 6, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Preston, Julia. “Issues Start Rush to Citizenship by Hispanics.” New York Times. February 5, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Romero, Simon.”News Analysis; Settling of Crisis Makes Winners of Andes Nations, While Rebels Lose Ground.” New York Times. March 9, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Slackman, Michael “A Fragil Economy Raises Pressure on Iran's Rulers”. New York Times. February 3, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Toussaint, David. “Can Democrats Stop Their Squabbling?” New York Times. March 13, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Worth, Robert F. “Decoding Lebanese Paranoia”. New York Times. February 17, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Zeleny, Jeff. “Obama, Drawing Criticism On Two Fronts, Fires Back.” New York Times. February 21, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
Aristotle. Rhetoric. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 22, translated by J. H. Freese. Aristotle. Cambridge and London. Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd. 1926. Perseus Project. Tufts University. Retrieved March 21, 2008.
Hickman, John and Sarah Bartlett. “Reporting a New Delhi Bias? A Content Analysis of AP Wire Stories on the Conflicts in Sri Lanka and Kashmir.” Jouvert. A Journal of Postcolonial Studies. Vol. 6. Issue 3. Spring 2002. College of the Humanities and Social Sciences. North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC. Retrieved March 21, 2008.
Balkin, Jack M., "Digital Speech and Democratic Culture: A Theory of Freedom of Expression for the Information Society". New York University Law Review, Vol. 79, No. 1, 2004 SSRN. Retrieved March 21, 2008.
<http://ssrn.com/abstract=470842 or DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.470842>
Lee, David YW. "Genres, Registers, Text Types,
Domains, and Styles: Clarifying the Concepts and Navigation a Path
Through BNC Jungle." Language Learning
& Technology. Vol. 5, Num. 3. 3.
September 2001. Pp. 37-72. Retrieved March 16,
Logan, David C. and Fischer-Wright, Halee, "The Rhetoric Conspiracy: Why Rhetoric is Too Powerful and Had to Be Lobotomized (Part 1 of 3 in the Rhetoric Series)" (July 6, 2006). Barbados Group Working Paper No. 06-05. SSRN. Retrieved March 20th 2008.
Mailloux, Steven. Rhetorical Power. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1989.
White, Peter R. Telling Media Tales: The News Story as Rhetoric. PhD Thesis May 1998. Department of Linguistics. University of Sydney. Retrieved March 21, 2008.
“Rhetoric”. Merriam-Websters Online Dictionary. March 21, 2008.
Ruhrmann, Georg; Sommer, Denis; and Sassenberg, Kai. "Intergroup Bias in Mass Media: From Semantic to Pragmatic Dimensions – A Research Agenda" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, TBA, San Francisco, CA Online. 2007, May. All Academic. Retrieved March 21, 2008.
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