Friday, August 10, 2012


Media Mistakes

Yes We Can! - Get to the Bottom of It

The media monitoring site, MediaBugs, reports:

Back in October, 2009 James Fallows wrote on his Atlantic Monthly blog about how a newly coined word, “obamu,” had “gained currency among some Japanese youths.” The word according to the blog entry was a verb rooted in the name Obama, as in President Obama. Essentially this new addition to the Japanese lexicon implied the same hopeful concept embraced by Obama’s famous campaign slogan, “Yes we can!” It was a great story from that so often “inscrutable and mysterious” land known as Japan. The trouble is the newly minted expression had about all the weight of cheap counterfeit knock-off. Upon closer inspection, CNN.GO’s Daniel Krieger, in an article entitled “Obamu: Obama gets his own (imaginary?) verb,” discovered that all that glitters isn’t gold. His research findings are perhaps best summed up in the CNN.GO articles subtitle that says “There's been a lot of buzz about a new verb based on Barack Obama's name, but we don't uncover any evidence of actual usage.” The main source for Fallows’ post is a blog by “a foreigner living in Japan.” The site's author prides himself on being free of the cultural blinders that so often obscure the truth in media reports, blogs, etc. covering Japan.  Unfortunately in this case the self-proclaimed unbiased portrayal of Japan as it really is, may really be in short nothing more than another tall tale.In light of Krieger’s work the Atlantic story looks like it could easily dovetail with the famed urban legend about the Tokyo department store whose Christmas window display featured a crucified Santa Claus and so many other tales born from Western imaginations. Sure, facts may not be as entertaining as fancy but they’re worth more than hearsay any day, and those are words you can bank on.

Another related report ("Putting Words in People's Mouths")on the same site by the same "bug reporter" (me) cites: 

... a Schott’s Vocab blog post in The New York Times (“Obamu” October 29, 2009) noting how President Barack Obama had inspired the coining of a new Japanese word, “Obamu.” Fascinated by the article I scoured the Internet in search of more about it. I soon discovered an article by Daniel Krieger on CNN.GO (Obamu: Obama gets his own(imaginary?) verb) stating that “There's been a lot of buzz about a new verb based on Barack Obama's name, but we don't uncover any evidence of actual usage.”  Schott’s article looks to be based entirely on the casual observations of one US expat blogger living in Japan. Krieger on the other hand seems to have done some research surveys to test Schott’s findings and came up with nothing that bears them out. While they were both interesting and entertaining articles that were super enjoyable to read, they left me with a question that now weighs kind of heavy on my mind. Was (is) the Obama-inspired “Obamu” really a newly-coined word in the Japanese lexicon or is it a counterfeit being passed off on the reader as the genuine article?In his blog post, Schott tips his hat to James Fallows at The Atlantic, who evidently wrote about the new expression after discovering it on the Internet. George Stephanopoulos supposedly blogged about it as well. While the word apparently racked up a lot of media mileage, it looks like Krieger was the only one to look under the hood and see if it was worthy of passing inspection.

I'm not too sure if Fallows, Schott, and Stephanopoulos are mistaken or not. If they are, it's certainly too small of an error to spill all this digital ink over. On the other hand it could be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It may just point the way to how more serious mistakes in larger stories dealing with war or the economy, etc. find their way into print, on the Internet or over the airwaves. If Krieger, the intrepid CNN.GO reporter, is right, then the MediaBugs reports show just how easily an uncorroborated story can make its way around the media merry-go-round and in the process turn the truth completely around.

Related post: Picture Imperfect

No comments:

Post a Comment