I know from experience that, for a writer of news, the jaws of a cliche can be a difficult thing to escape.
You’re in a hurry, you need an image people can relate to, you need to somehow make the political convention you’re writing about seem exciting, as opposed to just a multi-day display of balloons and bluster, pomp and propaganda.
The cliche, often, is the first term that pops into your head, and once it latches on — legend has it they exert a force beyond any other words, something like a million pounds per square inch — you just can’t shake them off.
So, unless you find something you can describe as a “game-changer” — it having quickly risen up the cliche ladder — you pepper your reports with terms like “attack dog.”
This being convention season, “attack dogs” are everywhere.
Just in the first few days of this week — as the Democratic National Convention got underway in Charlotte – Vice President Joe Biden, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to name a few, have been described in the news media as attack dogs.
Rest assured, the pack will grow as the convention progresses, as will the use of the misnomer.
They are not attack dogs; they are attack humans. And it’s unfair to identify them by lumping them into a whole different species — a species that’s smart enough to eschew the back-biting world of politics.
I have no problem with the political parties designating certain politicians to be the tough guys, to say the things that — be they borderline truths, senseless vitriol or other comments deemed too indecorous — the presidential candidate himself probably shouldn’t utter.
But let’s leave dogs out of it.
Let’s come up with another descriptive term, like Clint Eastwoods.
A true attack dog, of the canine variety, is a dog that humans have done all they could, through breeding, through training, through constantly reinforcing aggression, to instill that behavior. It’s not, at least since dog was domesticated, their natural way.
With politicians, I’m not so sure.
Those creatures you see at the political conventions are growling, smarmy, snarling humans, doing what their masters tell them to do. That’s not a behavior learned from dogs; it’s a behavior learned from politics.
(Photo: West Highland terriers Ricky and Reba, who, like most dogs, aren’t attack dogs at all)
Posted by jwoestendiek September 5th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, attack dogs, biden, castro, cliches, conventions, coverage, democrats, dogs, eastwood, networks, news, news media, news writing, o'malley, pets, political, politics, president, quinn, reid, republicans, terminology, vice president, writing
What do Joe Biden, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani — to name just a few — have in common?
They’ve all been called “attack dogs” this week, so often that the phrase — in addition to reinforcing notions of dogs as vicious — has become a fairly major political reporting cliche, if it wasn’t one already
Then again, to me (and maybe it’s just the attack dog in me) political reporting is about 50 percent cliches anwyay — though, granted, that’s because politics is about 80 percent cliches.
You’d think the media, often portrayed as an attack dog itself, would better monitor its use of the term:
NPR: “Biden Plays Second Fiddle (And Attack Dog)”
Washington Post: “…Romney, a potential running mate for Sen. John McCain who was trying on the attack dog role.”
New York Daily News: “Attack-dog Rudy Giuliani takes a bite out of Hillary Clinton’s speech”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think it’s time for a wake-up call. That dog don’t hunt.
Cliches are bad enough, but ones that needlessly denigrate the canine reputation are particularly disturbing. At least we can be glad the media is not calling the vice presidential candidates pit bulls.
Associated Press: “Mitt Romney, a potential John McCain running mate playing Republican pit bull on the periphery of the Democratic National Convention…”
Daily Kos: (on Biden) “… it should be fun having a real pit bull in the number two position to do some of the necessary dirty work…”
Huffington Post: “Picking Biden is a solid choice that adds political savvy, national security experience and a pit bull campaigner to Obama’s ticket.”
Clearly, I have no complaint with comparing politicians to dogs, but I think it should least be done in an informative and entertaining way — not just stereotyping for stereotyping’s sake.
Posted by jwoestendiek August 29th, 2008 under Muttsblog.
Tags: attack dogs, biden, campaign, candidates, cliches, convention, democrats, dogs, mccain, media, obama, politics, presidency, republicans, romney, vice presidential