Promptly Acknowledge Affiliation to Provide Context

By Mark Nichol

I was slightly put off by a newspaper article that referred to the recent appearance before a US Senate subcommittee of philanthropist Paul David Hewson. Why? Because the article, after introducing Hewson by his better-known moniker, Bono, identified him simply as “the U2 frontman.”

The article, however, had nothing to do with Bono’s membership in one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed rock bands of all time. Bono spoke to the subcommittee in his capacity as an activist who has cofounded several nongovernmental organizations that seek to improve living conditions, primarily in Africa. It had everything to do with finding ways to combat extremism and terrorism without violence, including providing financial assistance to refugees victimized by perpetrators of such movements.

The article was in the entertainment section, not the news section, but it was a bit flippant about one of Bono’s admittedly offbeat arguments: that humor be deployed as one cultural weapon against repressive regimes. Most important, however, it took its time presenting Bono’s credentials, implying that he was just one more in a long line of airheaded artists spouting dippy suggestions about how to save the world.

The writer did not err in mentioning Bono’s identity as the face of an iconic music act—that’s what attracts eyeballs—but to be responsible, he or she should have quickly introduced the musician in his additional capacity as a respected advocate for oppressed people all over the world. Readers unfamiliar with his activism and philanthropy would then be promptly informed of the validity of his appearance before a congressional subcommittee.

Following a blithe lede (that’s journalistic slang for the lead sentence or paragraph of a newspaper article, kids), the article stated, “The U2 frontman spoke during a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday . . . .” If I had been the editor of the article, I would have revised it to read something like this: “The U2 frontman, also recognized for his activism and philanthropy in support of oppressed people worldwide, spoke during a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday . . . .”

In addition, Bono’s primary plea was for more funding for political refugees; the comment about deploying comedians was an afterthought by comparison, though he did make a valid point about how dadaists and surrealists in early Nazi Germany, employing satire in their activities and publications, were a threat to Nazi hegemony. The article underemphasized his call for a program much like the Marshall Plan, an ambitious (and expensive) but effective economic initiative that was instrumental in helping Europe rebuild after World War II.

In summary, if you find yourself in a position to report on a celebrity’s more substantial activities, such as philanthropic efforts, even if the content is intended to be as much entertaining as informative (or even more of the one than the other), do a better job than the writer in question about providing context.

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2 Responses to “Promptly Acknowledge Affiliation to Provide Context”

  • Roberta B.

    Excuse me. From the example, it sounds like he’s asking the government for money. Last time I checked, philanthropy is supposed to be private which, to his credit, he has done. However, with regard to governmental policy and entertainers, have you ever heard the expression, “Shut up, and sing,” or act or whatever? That might be applicable to your example. So, I have no criticism with the way it sounds like the reporter identified him.

  • venqax

    Overall, I agree with Roberta. Whether or not “Bono” is “a respected advocate for oppressed people” worthy of testifying in a serious capacity and not just another “airheaded artists spouting dippy suggestions” is a judgment call that the self-described “news” reporters probably should not make. The fact that he is the frontman of U2, OTOH, is an unmitigated fact. That is not just “what attracts eyeballs”, it is the whole reason he is there as opposed to someone equally concerned who wants to “advocate” but isn’t invited. Unfortunately, Senate committees and their like contribute to the perceived problem. If they behaved so that the very fact of testifying before them was a reliable indicator of the testifier’s seriousness or credentials, it would be nice. But such is not the case. Those committees are quite fond of using celebrities– without prejudice against airheaded dips– for their theatrical presentations.

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