It’s interesting that so many people took yesterday’s post at face value. We’ll come clean: it is not our actual stance on the Pietersen issue. There are bits of it we might agree with to some extent, but for the most part it’s an extreme position we adopted in order to make an entirely different point.
It was intended as a parody of recent newspaper pieces covering the Strauss-Pietersen issue. We wrote it because we don’t like it when the boundary between news and opinion is blurred and because we don’t like it when the media as a whole seems to favour one particular version of events.
It was written as if we were a Little Englander. However, the twist is that in this parallel universe, Strauss is seen as the villain while Pietersen is portrayed as an England hero. The facts are the same, but they are presented differently.
It’s wrong to say that every writer has an agenda, but they do all have opinions. We’re seeing a great deal more opinion than news regarding Pietersen and Strauss. That’s fine, but we don’t like it when opinions are sneaked in on the sly. There’s a certain amount of insidious rhetoric on display when it comes to this particular story.
The point we were making with yesterday’s post is that the same information can be presented in different ways. Clearly there are differences between the backgrounds of Pietersen and Strauss, but you could, if you wanted to, make an issue of Strauss’s place of birth – or Andy Flower’s for that matter.
Similarly, Strauss took a holiday in the middle of the season and in the middle of a crisis. This wasn’t a massive crime, particularly in light of what followed, but we can only imagine how the press would have reacted if Pietersen had done the same. Strauss took a break. Pietersen would have ‘controversially’ taken a break.
That use of ‘controversially’ is the kind of thing we’re talking about. Certain vocabulary can give rise to subtle, perhaps accidental, attempts to persuade the reader that one party is ‘right’ and the other is ‘wrong’.
Word use matters
In The Sunday People, Dave Kidd outlines how England’s “South Africa-born star” criticised James Taylor during the Lord’s Test. No real details are given, but this doesn’t stop Derek Pringle from saying that it “plumbs new depths of obnoxious behaviour” in The Telegraph. You read those two pieces and you can’t help but have a certain perception of what happened – but based on what?
We know many writers are paid primarily to provide opinion, but that’s not necessarily how people read their articles. Report on a new development and it comes across as being ‘news’. It is then possible to colour that news through the words you choose to use and the related events you choose to recount.
Clearly, there are far more serious media problems than how a feud between two cricketers is being presented. However, at the same time, the issues this raises and the methodology being used are common to other, more significant stories, so it pays to be aware of this kind of thing. You shouldn’t read ANYONE’S words and assume they are fair, balanced and well thought-out. After all, most writers and opinion-formers are complete idiots.