Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Can the News Media Distinguish Between ‘News’ and ‘Not News’?

Posted by MEC on February 25, 2007

BREAKING NEWS! Romney family tree has polygamy branch

And this is “news” exactly why?

I suspect that if I had an opportunity to ask somebody at the Associated Press, and they deigned to notice my question, they’d explain that it’s news because it’s about somebody who’s in the news, and because it will catch the audience’s attention.

Sorry, not good enough. Getting a reaction of “Ooh! Shiny thing!” doesn’t make something newsworthy.

This is a corollary to Taibbi’s Law. If it’s not relevant, it’s not news.

Sometimes a politician’s family history is newsworthy. For example, it was real news when the Guardian reported that George W. Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a director of Union Banking Corporation until the firm had its assets seized for doing business with Nazi Germany.* Prescott Bush’s dealings with Nazi Germany are relevant because his political influence and the family fortune are the foundation of his son’s and grandson’s political careers; and Prescott himself was, by all accounts, a significant presence in his descendants’ lives; and his son and grandson have never repudiated his involvement with our country’s enemy. This details of the Bush family history is still influencing events today.

Mitt Romney’s relationship to his scandalous ancestor is entirely different. His great-grandfather Miles Park Romney, his last polygamist ancestor, died decades before Mitt was born. He has condemned polygamy and the Mormons’ polygamous past.

This Associated Press story is as relevant to Mitt Romney’s political career as the reports that George W. Bush is descended from William the Conqueror — maybe less so, because Romney’s behavior has less in common with this ancestor’s.

Those reports about Bush’s genealogy were presented as a odd little sidebar to the campaign, amusing but unimportant. The Associated Press report cited above is presented as news — as if this detail of the Romney family’s past should influence our opinion of Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate.

There are lots of reasons to decide not to support Mitt Romney’s candidacy, but what his great-grandfather did long before he was born, that is not a factor in his descendants’ actions and achievements, is not one of them.

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(* And that’s another corollary to Taibbi’s Law: Just because the vast majority of the news media ignore something doesn’t mean it isn’t news.)

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