Friday, March 14, 2008

Rhetoric about blindness begins in Paterson coverage

Headline writers love their puns, and in today's journalism crisis, many creative headlines are used to try to draw readers to the content. So the stories and headlines about the new NY Gov. David Paterson, who is legally blind, present a mixed bag. On the one hand, many stories are adding some significant information generally about blind people in America; on the other hand, some in the media may go too far in trying to be creative with language about blindness. I'm not saying never use a creative turn of phrase. I'm just saying, be careful.

Here's a glance at some of the media coverage:

"And A Blind Man Shall Lead Us" -- headline from the web page of WHAM 13 in Rochester, NY. An obvious headline that I am surprised I didn't see more places around the web. The story itself actually comments on Paterson's ability to be self deprecating. The story recounts all the positive aspects of Paterson's blindness.

"What It Means to Be New York's First Legally Blind Governor" -- Fox News discusses what the term "legally blind" means in Paterson's case.

"How a Blind Man Will Lead a State" -- Tara Parker-Pope's Health blog for the NY Times. She explains how a blind man like Paterson does his day-to-day activities.

"Legally Blind, but Confident in ‘His Best Adaptive Skills’" -- One of many stories The NY Times did this week, but this one focuses on how he gets around, with explanation from the President of the American Foundation for the Blind, Carl Augusto: “People say to me, ‘How could he function without knowing Braille?’ Well, guess what, he functions, and functions very, very well. He does it because he’s smart and uses what he thinks are his best adaptive skills.” At the March 13 news conference, Paterson had an aide call on the reporters there.

"The Vision Thing" -- Writer Stephen Kuusisto, author of Planet of the Blind (the book and the blog) and who is visually impaired himself, contributed an op-ed in the March 14 NY Times about living life as a blind person. "He’ll ask more questions than your average politician. And those who work in his administration will find that they are important not simply for knowing things but because they can describe how they learned those things in the first place. That’s perhaps the most important thing for the public to understand about professionals who are blind — we are by nature tireless in acquiring information, and we remember virtually every detail of what we read or hear." Kuusisto explains on his blog that he didn't come up with the headline and doesn't like the pun because it is associated with the first President Bush.

"Spitzer’s Successor: David Paterson, NY’s First Blind Governor" - The Wall Street Journal's Health blog discusses his blindness and the fact that he is a Mets fan.

"'Compromiser' next in line as N.Y. gov." -- USA Today focused on political implications for NY state, but also wove in information about FDR and Paterson's connection to the blindness community: "New York has had a disabled governor before: Franklin D. Roosevelt was paralyzed by polio seven years before he became governor in 1928. Few Americans knew of the disability; it could be concealed in the days before television. Paterson has been a trustee of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and President Carl Augusto hopes Paterson would show the public that a physical disability is not a political liability. 'We hope that the next time a blind person takes over a Fortune 500 company, through David's influence people will say, 'That's not a big deal.' "

"Sighs of relief in Albany as David Paterson takes stage as new gov" -- The NY Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez also talked to AFB about Paterson. "He's a skillful and accomplished political leader," but also "a wonderful human being," Carl Augusto said there.

"His successor makes history for being blind as well as black" -- The Times of London's James Bone talks about meeting Paterson during the South Carolina primary.

"What does 'legally blind' mean?" - ABC 7 News in NY City does a report talking to Dr. Jay Adlersberg about the specifics of "legal blindness."

"10 Things You Didn't Know About David Paterson" -- U.S. News & World Report explained that one of the 10 things was "in 2004, he became the first visually impaired person to address a Democratic National Convention and, in 2006, he was elected New York's first African-American lieutenant governor."