“Manufactured story.” It's one of the most tried-and-true ways to disparage what’s regarded as an unfairly negative news account.
You could argue that most political journalism is manufactured, in the sense that it often involves formulating a premise and then expanding on – or having others expand on – that premise. The cry of “manufactured story” arises when one side is aggrieved that the other side is making a big deal out of something the former sees as trivial.
It happened this week when a Louisiana liberal blogger reported that Rep. Steve Scalise, the House’s third-ranking Republican, spoke to a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in 2002, six years before he was elected to Congress. Scalise quickly distanced himself from the group, the European-American Unity and American Rights Organization, and House GOP leaders, as well as other Republicans, backed him.
“This manufactured blogger story is simply an attempt to score political points by slandering the character of a good man,” said Roger Villere Jr., chairman of Louisiana’s Republican Party.
The “manufacturing” mantra most often pops up during campaigns, when candidates and parties seek to tightly limit how they are portrayed. To them, anything straying beyond those limits can qualify as making a mountain out of a molehill.
During his 2012 trip to Israel, Republican Mitt Romney offended Palestinian leaders when he said that culture was among the chief reasons Israelis have been more economically prosperous than Palestinians. Romney’s chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, noted exasperatedly that the ex-Massachusetts governor had made the argument previously in speeches, as well as a book, and called the controversy “a completely manufactured story.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have raised the “manufacturing” flag whenever right-wing Republicans show avid interest in the deadly 2012 attacks at US buildings in Benghazi, Libya. Or, more recently, over some conservative media’s disgust with President Obama’s disclosure that he watches sports and not cable news while working out in the morning.
Stories occasionally do get manufactured, of course. Two of the most notorious examples in journalism history recently resurfaced in the news: The October death of longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee included mentions of the 1980 series “Jimmy’s World,” about a fictional eight-year-old heroin addict. And the saga of New Republic reporter Stephen Glass’s made-up articles in the 1990s was revived in a lengthy November piece by one of his ex-colleagues.
Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark write their "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Decoder Voices.