Sunday, September 07, 2008

An unreliable narrator:

"The Progressive Curmudgeon" recounts a piece of investigative bloggism that he did, in which he purports to expose Sarah Palin for the "racist and sexist" that she truly is. And he even produces a witness.

This is his original story.

And this is the follow up, trying to provide some support for its veracity and reliability.

This story sounds to me highly suspicious. Does anyone here remember that Michelle Obama was herself the target of a similar slurring campaign? It was a story circulated by someone who was told by a good and reliable friend that they had themselves seen this video and that it was as damning as Obama bashers could only wish for in their dreams.

In literary theory, this kind of reportage is done by an unreliable narrator. Usually the most deadly give away of such a method is the many screens erected between the teller of the story and its origin. Since the author cannot produce irrefutably solid evidence, he resorts to providing a great deal of circumstantial information swirling around and about the witness he has quoted, by way of rendering her authentic and reliable.

A reliance upon a reader's deliberate gullibility about the kind of story provided is also a factor. The Curmudgeon knows his target readership and their expectations, because they share his bias.

Unreliable narrators are usually first-person narrators, but more unreliable are the third-person ones, as is the case here: The author is quoting something he heard from a person he spoke to on the phone for 10 minutes, and who claims that she was serving at at a table just when the fatal words were uttered.

Another giveaway is that the report frames the story in such a way that the narrator appears as a minor and merely receptive character in it. What characterizes such stories is the strong wish on the part of the narrator that they be true. Simultaneously, aware of its unsound foundations, the teller weaves into the tale some qualifications, should he be obliged to beat a retreat from it. So that when and if it turns out to be false, the reporter can always claim that he was just a duped, trusting messenger, nothing more nothing less.

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