“Shadow Conventions” and Journalistic Choices
July 13, 2012 7:56 am
By Yvonne Lee
While labor leaders announced (and Unionosity reported on) the Workers Stand for America rally taking place August 11th in Philadelphia, PA, Sam Hananel of the Associated Press took a different approach. Hananel wrote a story headlined, “Unions to hold ‘shadow convention’ in Philadelphia.” The story was quickly republished by Fox News, CBS and various smaller news outlets.
The issue here is less about whether the upcoming rally is indeed a shadow convention versus a rally and more about the choices made in reporting the event. Nowhere in the article, or in any of its republished outlets, is a definition offered for the term “shadow convention.” Neither will the average searcher find a definition in Black’s Law or Safire’s Political Dictionary, the two go-to reference tomes in politics and law. So what is a “shadow convention” and why does providing a definition matter to the public?
“Shadow convention” was the popular title of an alternative convention to both the 2000 Democratic and Republican National Conventions in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Since then, the term has been used sparingly but often enough by those in politics to have some working definitions: either it’s a convention in the proximity of and in opposition to another, official convention, or it’s a covert convention controlling the official one. While there’s little doubt that Hananel meant the term in the first sense, admittedly the use of the term is confusing. (Hence, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers spokesman Jim Spellane released a statement that it’s not quite right and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and IBEW President Edwin Hill dismissed reports that Workers Stand for America is a shadow convention.)
While those familiar with 2000′s DNC and RNC events are acquainted with the term in the first sense, those who forgot or were not paying attention at the time could easily assume that “shadow convention” assumed a darker, more ominous meaning. A quick Google search reveals nothing in the way of a definition. The ambiguity of the term can be seen in how “shadow” is open to multiple interpretations: interns “shadow” supervisors to get a feel for the workplace; a “shadow self ” is synonymous with one’s bad side, or an evil twin.
The omission of the definition of the term “shadow convention,” I assume, is not a malicious act by Hananel. But the proliferation of the article in Fox News and affiliated outlets, in conjunction with 2011′s infamous “Some News Leaves People Knowing Less” poll, does little to instill confidence in large news outlets’ objectivity — and even less in how they represent the modern day labor movement.
Image from here