Tag Archives: linguistics

Pravda on Charlie Wilson

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Pravda takes a not unexpected, yet scathing stance in Charlie Wilson's death notice this evening.

A photograph of Sen (D) Charlie Wilson at a podium.

The headline reads "[i]n the USA, the congressman who authorized the supply of weapons to the mujahideen has died." (В США скончался конгрессмен, занимавшийся поставкой оружия моджахедам) The article goes on to tersely mention his appropriating funds for covert missions arming the mujahideen to fight the Soviets. It ends with "[i]n 1980 he was charged with drug use, but the investigation conducted by the Justice Department's prosecutor, the future mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani, had to be abandoned due to lack of evidence." (В 1980 году ему было предъявлено обвинение в употреблении наркотиков, однако расследование, которое вел прокурор министерства юстиции США, будущий мэр Нью-Йорка Рудольф Джулиани, было прекращено за недостатком улик.) The translations are mine.

This comes on the heels, coincidentally, of an RT special today on the American 'media machine' (I believe they called it) which is, they claim, designed to distract viewers from the substance of news with flashy presentation of the news.

I would like to contrast this presentation with that of two other news agencies: CNNAl Jazeera and the BBC. I will attempt to decompose the rhetorical moves in each of the four articles and show how each news agency drew attention to specific aspects of the story. I will not judge or discuss the factual accuracy of any article.

Pravda's article is terse, at only 3 paragraphs: it offers a short account of his tenure on the Senate and essentially ends with the above quotation.

CNN's article is written as an obituary. It focuses on his life, on his accomplishments and on the film made about him, "Charlie Wilson's War." In fact, the author mentions Tom Hanks by name (as the actor who played Sen. Wilson) and even provides theatrical criticism of the accuracy of the film's plot.

CNN's first rhetorical move provides a context for the late Senator's death, giving an account of this health problems in the days leading up to this death. The second move offers what I would liken to an elegy in the form of three accounts given by Mr. Robert Gates, Senator Rick Perry (TX) and David R. Obey. Robert Gates is quoted as saying, aptly "As the world now knows, his efforts and exploits helped repel an invader, liberate a people and bring the Cold War to a close. After the Soviets left, Charlie kept fighting for the Afghan people and warned against abandoning that traumatized country to its fate -- a warning we should have heeded then, and should remember today." The third move offers an account of the film.

Despite the admiration many had for Senator Wilson, Senator Perry is quoted revealing at least some indiscretion: "Charlie Wilson led a life that was oversized even by Hollywood's standards[.]"

The fourth move describes his involvement with Afghanistan, his training at the Naval Academy and includes a quotation by then-Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq given in a 60 Minutes interview. The article ends with the list of this family members left behind and declares that funeral arrangements are pending.

The emphasis on this article is clearly accorded to the late Senator's achievements in thwarting communism and on his unapologetically grandiose lifestyle.

Charlie Wilson, front, was the architect of the CIA's mission to end the Cold War [AP]

Al Jazeera's article resembles CNN's in many ways and follows essentially the same rhetorical structure, with one major exception. Al Jazeera, not unexpectedly, devotes nearly half of the article to the aftermath of the failure to establish an interim political and social solution after the departure of Soviet armed forces. Al Jazeera, unlike CNN, also included a culturally-relevant quotation from Senator Wilson in a 2001 AP story: "People like me didn't fulfil our responsibilities once the war was over [...] We allowed this vacuum to occur in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which enraged a lot of people. That was as much my fault as it was a lot of others'."

The article then goes on to elaborate on that fall-out after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. "This was a failure of US policy at the time. They did not listen to Charlie Wilson. Had they listened, things would have been different," Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK, said in an interview with AJ.

Al Jazeera also mentions other relevant events, such as the dedication of the Charlie Wilson chair for Pakistan Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

The BBC's article is extremely terse in comparison to the other two. It mentions the circumstances of his death, that he served as a Congressman, that he helped to repel the Soviets. It makes no mention of his lifestyle. It ends with shining praise in the form of an AP quote from his former chief-of-staff, Charles Schnabel: "Charlie was perfect as a congressman, perfect as a state representative, perfect as a state senator. He was a perfect reflection of the people he represented. If there was anything wrong with Charlie, I never did know what it was."

What they all have in common

They all mention the film, his arming the mujahideen in a Afghanistan to repel a Soviet invasion. However, CNN and Al Jazeera (parts of which bare a striking resemblance to CNN's article) both explain, from their own perspectives, the aftermath in Afghanistan of the soviet repulsion.

CNN quotes the delicately-phrased Gov (TX) Rick Perry: "Charlie Wilson led a life that was oversized even by Hollywood's standards." Compare this with Pravda's assertion in the first paragraph, the quotation offered by the BBC attesting to Senator Wilson's "perfection," and Al Jazeera's quite balanced assertion that he was an avid party-goer.