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Walter Rodgers

The Super Bowl just aggravates our addiction to hyperbole

The Jets are out, the Steelers are in. The Green Bay Packers ousted the Chicago Bears. And now we'll be subjected to weeks of adrenaline-pumping adjectives – a trend that has spread to politics and media, corroding our discourse.

By Walter Rodgers / January 24, 2011

Americans have become addicted to superlatives. We seem to need our regular “hyperbole fixes” as if to validate our own existence. This national syndrome becomes most egregious during the run-up to the “Super Bowl,” a football game that more often than not turns out to be the “ho-hum” bowl.

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But to the attuned ear, this pumped-up hype routinely infects most of our conversations. This exaggeration is not the exclusive province of the magpies of sports talk. In a broader sense, some of these embellishments carry with them a subtle but undeniable element of dishonesty.

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The news media is perhaps most culpable in promoting our obsession with overstatement. Consider last November’s midterm elections. Television’s political pundits portrayed the results as a “landslide victory” for Republicans and a rejection of President Obama. While it’s true that the GOP picked up 63 seats, the “massive win” becomes a slim plurality when you crunch the numbers.

Michael McDonald, a professor of politics at Virginia’s George Mason University, found that only 41 percent of eligible voters even bothered to vote in the so-called GOP landslide. And within that 41 percent, the margin of victory for House Republicans in the national popular vote was about 7 percent. Still, the media acted as though America had become a tea party nation. In reality, more Americans identify as Democrats (31 percent) than Republicans (29 percent), according to a recent Gallup survey.

Facts stand on their own

Distortions like this tend to be at their most shameful during triumphs and tragedies, precisely when facts and events should be able to stand on their own without being propped up by the banalities of those paid to read a TV teleprompter.

I recall during CNN’s live coverage of Pope John Paul II’s funeral in 2005, one of my colleagues gushed in her impromptu on-air eulogy that the late pontiff was “the pope of the whole world!”

Such silly media pronouncements are so common that few of us even notice them as they float off into the ether. Yet such hyperbole is not just pompous; it also reveals considerable ignorance. My former colleague’s remark marginalized not just the billion or so Protestants and Eastern Orthodox adherents who don’t follow orders from Rome but also the 4 billion Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others who don’t consider the pontiff worthy of such adulation and veneration.


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