Contrived "Firsts"

More journalese:

Not tonight Cecilia: divorce for Sarkozys
Nicolas Sarkozy becomes first French head of state since Napoleon Bonaparte to end his marriage in office

Notice the quadruple-qualification that makes Sarko’s divorce a “first”: “French”; “head of state”; “since Napoleon”; and “in office”.
The journalistic tendency to speak about everything in terms of records broken, and “firsts” achieved has been prevalent in Scotland recently too. Wendy Alexander was apparently noteworthy because she was Scottish Labour’s first woman leader (though Anabel Goldie already leads the Tories). And Jack McConnell was feted as Scotland’s “longest serving” First Minister, a contrived “record” since he had only two predecessors, both of whom left office early in exceptional circumstances.
These “firsts” and “record breakers” are irritating because they are a distraction. They are a lazy hook for journalists to begin the story, eating up word count that could be used to analyse the event itself. Of course there is no precise precedent for Sorkozy’s domestic re-alignment – But is that fact likely to have an impact on how the French will manage the situation? Indeed, does the event have any political significance at all?
Has anyone else noticed any contrived “firsts”?


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4 Replies to “Contrived "Firsts"”

  1. Ooooh yes! John Galagher on the bbc news, was apparently the first englishman to win the rugby world cup. Never mind that he was playing for New Zealand at the time. And never mind that it is a team game…
    And of course, I am the first person called Clarice to submit this, the first, comment to your post.

  2. I dunno about firsts, but along a vaguely similar theme, I used to be avidly into the Guniess Book of Records, when it was in a kind of columned Encyclopaedia format and focused on things like tallest buildings, oldest people, coldest temperatures etc. Around the turn of the millenium thye replaced it with a shiny, more pop-culture based version which rather than being continuous, is presented as one double-page-spread per “subject”…so “film special effects” get as much attention as “people and nations”. This, together with a tendency to put huge pictures of pretty people we already know about and don’t buy the GBOR to see (Britney Spears, Olsen Twins, David Beckham) and justify it by inventing a record to suit. So we get things like a big picture of Vanessa Mae taking up half the classical section (with the caption “youngest violinist to record both the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky concertos”).
    More closely related to what you said, “firsts” used to be completely frowned upon because they can’t be beaten, but the new style Guiness loves them, although preferring to call them “earliest” as if that sounds more like a record!

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