Why a 'manufactured story' is often in the eye of the beholder

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.

Jim Bourg/Reuters/File
Newly elected House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana attends a news conference after House Republican leadership elections on Capitol Hill in Washington in this June 19, 2014, file photo. As a state lawmaker, Scalise gave a speech at a conference of white nationalists in 2002. Backers call the story, which broke last weekend, 'manufactured.'

“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. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why a 'manufactured story' is often in the eye of the beholder
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today