After growing up in an upper-class suburban neighborhood in New Haven, receiving a Philosophy degree from the Ivy-League Princeton University, continuing her post-graduate work at John Hopkins in Public Health, and completing two years at Fordham Law School, some of Chandra Bozelko’s ideas may surprise you. With justice stories and issues abound in the news, she has become one of the most recognizable voices, quick to defend criminal justice and never concerned with providing harsh criticism of her colleagues in the media.
Recently the author displayed a tactical combination of both of her writing skills and her advocacy for protecting those in the criminal justice system, in a fierce rebuke published on the site creators.com. She masterfully blends her not-so-subtle tones of sarcasm and the use of rhetorical appeals to condemn profit seeking, ‘market-driven news’ coverage, and to question the integrity of her colleagues for continuing to fuel the public’s false narrative that has stoked anger towards the incarcerated through misleading stories. The artful placement of personal testimonials, expert theories, and statistical data of the incarcerated, powerfully support the authors thesis.
Chandra Bozelko wrote “Stop Lapping Up Fake News about People in Prison” (Bozelko, 2019). A scathing rebuttal and warning provoked by an article originally published by USA Today and subsequently published by many others like NBC News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, New York Daily News, and The Washington Post. The original USA Today headline reported “Government shutdown: Federal inmates feast on Cornish hens, and steak as prison guards labor without pay” (Bozelko, 2019). The author’s rebuke was published on the website creators.com where Chandra is a regular contributor. The site is known for having a more conservative group of writers, and many major and local media sources redistribute articles published by its authors. The author states two issues as the basis for her thesis. News programming both locally and nationally are under significant pressure to sell advertising to increase profits for their parent companies. Profit pressure often leads to little or no fact checking before stories are distributed, as long as they are deemed headline worthy. The misinformation by the media has stroked anger against incarcerated people with headlines that feed into the public’s penchant for punishment. Stories like these have tricked the public into voting for tough-on-crime politicians. The ultimate damage impacts policy and the lives of average Americans.
The first thing the reader needs to know is Chandra became the first incarcerated person to have a regular byline in a publication outside of a maximum-security state prison in Connecticut, where she served more than six years for nonviolent crimes that remain on appeal. While incarcerated she also published a book of poetry, called “Up the River: An Anthology,” and she saved her unpublished columns to use for when she came home. Those unpublished columns became the award-winning blog Prison Diaries. Prison Diaries has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, three from the Connecticut Press Club in 2018 and two from the National Federation of Press Women, among others. Prison Diaries also won the Webby People’s Voice Award—considered the “Oscars of the internet” by The New York Times—in the personal blog/website category.
Although the author could rely on her experience to establish credibility, she chose to rely heavily on the tactical use of rhetorical appeals. Chandra immediately establishes a level of credibility stating: “As someone who has both ate and prepared these meals, I know prison holiday trays aren’t sumptuous or expensive” (Bozelko, 2019, p. 1). She uses another statement to elaborate on her personal experience, “In prison, special meals just aren’t” (Bozelko, 2019, p.1). There are several statements that are intended to challenge the reader to think logically. The writer uses sarcasm as an effect tool to provoke the reader and maintain a level of interest and intrigue. The sarcasm is also used to appeal to the reader’s logic with this comment: “Besides, any menu planned for Christmas was conceived well before the shutdown was a twinkle in President Donald Trump’s eye” (Bozelko, 2019, p. 1).
By offering a question the author is able to maintain the readers focus and attention on the two main arguments presented in the thesis. We need to examine why this faulty story was worth reporting again and again. We need to ask ourselves why we feasted on this tale so satisfyingly when it’s just another instance of ‘market-driven news’ cannibalization of this country (Bozelko, 2019, p. 4). The writer cites two responses from readers that responded to the original article published by USA Today on the inmate’s feast. Both comments are excellent examples supporting a portion of the author’s thesis that the media has stroked anger against incarcerated people with headlines that feed into the public’s penchant for punishment. The examples share hostile emotions immediately triggered in the reader’s effectively reinforcing her argument, “Gosh, we sure need to keep up the morale of convicted criminals, don’t we. This sort of liberal mindset is what is destroying our country!” wrote one reader about the USA Today report. “Democrats are more concerned about how these POS inmates are treated and could care less they committed crimes against good people,” commented another (Bozelko, 2019, P. 2). These are both very good examples of pathos and the immediate emotions ignited within the reader’s sparked by the original USA Today story. The comments also reinforce the power of rhetoric and the impact it can have on misinformed readers from the author’s perspective.
According to the researcher’s thesis, fake news stories have tricked the public into voting for tough-on-crime politicians who’ve enacted retrograde policies that ended up locking up a huge sector of this country. The author again suggests common ground with the reader by sharing shocking statistics regarding the number of Americans that are impacted by the criminal system, either directly or through a family member. Half of all adults in the United States–113 million people—have a family member who is or was incarcerated. Seventy million more were involved themselves with the criminal legal system (Bozelko, 2019, p. 3). Bozelko uses an expert’s theory to emphasize the original thesis. Duke University Law Professor Sara Sun Beale has theorized that “market-driven news” actually promotes punitiveness and discourages humane and proportional responses to crime. Beale says that even when crime rates were going down in the 1990s, coverage of salacious crime stories increased on local and national television news, because unlike the past, news programming had to make money and sell ads (Bozelko, 2019, p. 2).
The audience is the researcher’s media colleagues who provide news to their sources, the American public whom believe the information to be credible and trustworthy, as well as the executives within the networks who are more concerned with profitability than they are about providing factual news coverage. The genre is effective because it has a very large base of outlets and potential readers. The article is effective in supporting the author’s thesis and she provides various examples supported by facts, within each paragraph to support her main arguments throughout with the brilliant combination of rhetorical appeals, personal testimony, expert theories, and solid statistical data.
The USA Today story that was hastily redistributed by so many media outlets, provided an excellent rhetorical opportunity for Chandra Bozelko. The author was able to capitalize on her credibility as a respected writer , on two subject matters that she had very personal experience and knowledge of to effectively support a powerful two-part thesis.
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