PowerPoint is the one guaranteed way to make bad news worse.

If you come home and someone tells you that your dog has died, you grieve and wail and beat your breast. If you come home and someone tells you that your dog has died, via PowerPoint, you kill him.

The one thing that made the leak about the NSA’s extensive PRISM surveillance program of Internet companies even worse was the fact that it was shared via PowerPoint.

The PRISM logo is creepy enough on its own. If this news had leaked out on a normal sheet of letterhead with that unnerving Pink Floyd-esque design in one corner, it would have been trouble enough. If we had gotten this information through some well-designed, dynamic form of conveying news, say a video of NSA employees dressed as Star Trek characters, it would still have been bad, but it wouldn’t have been terrible. 

What is it? Is it the clip art? Is it the arrows? Is it the transitions, the wipes, the checkerboard dissolves, the insistence of the person presenting the PowerPoint on reading each bullet point aloud?

It is the distillation, in presentation form, of everything that is most soul-destroying about an office environment. Here’s one example

PowerPoint is where good ideas go to die. PowerPoint is bad news. No work of literature, however great, could survive being presented as a PowerPoint.

There was something about seeing the information about the extent of government access to our data presented as a PowerPoint that made it just that little bit worse that makes all the difference. It was more than the addition of insult to injury. It was the addition of PowerPoint to injury. It brought back memories of the spaghetti-shaped slide that claimed to solve AfghanistanHere they were, with access to data from

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Microsoft

and they weren’t even excited about it! Nothing says, “We are past blase about this information” like “Here it is in a PowerPoint.” Not to mention the description of “a parallel program, code-named BLARNEY, that gathers up ‘metadata’ — technical information about communications traffic and network devices — as it streams past choke points along the backbone of the Internet. BLARNEY’s top-secret program summary, set down in the slides alongside a cartoon insignia of a shamrock and a leprechaun hat, describes it as ‘an ongoing collection program that leverages IC [intelligence community] and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.'” There’s something about the combination of this jargon with a dopey cartoon insignia of a shamrock that is especially chilling. It’s the banality of eavesdropping.

Don’t shoot the messenger, they always say. But when the messenger is PowerPoint, you want to.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".