Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Today at Fox: War is over (if you want it)

If you're the agenda-setting type, you can get a good idea of the "media agenda" from the homepage, captured at 12:06 p.m. Eastern today, 16th inst, in this year of our Lord the two thousand nineteenth: Bullying obstructionist Democrats; Hannity, scourge of false prophets; Democrats hate the Constitution; scary video is scary;* and celebrities deny stuff from social media. No surprises if you keep up with the Fox agenda in general, right?

Unless you look at what the big papers were leading with around 11:45 a.m.:
You'd almost think they had been looking at broadcast organizations' websites an hour before that (that's the BBC on the right):

So, to recap: As of 1 p.m.,** there was no sign on the Fox homepage of an ISIS attack in Syria that killed American troops (plural), which from the BBC's timestamp appears to have been news since sometime before 10:30 a.m. It's not among the top 5 stories, and it's not among the shark sightings, lizard sightings, Royal Family outrages, episodic deaths and other items that make up the next 14 stories. 

Should we conclude that Fox has declared victory in the Global War on Terror and gone home? Probably not. It does seem fair to hypothesize that Fox no longer thinks a terrorist attack that kills American service personnel is a reflection on the president. It's not out of line to speculate that Fox is waiting for the White House to tell it whether it's OK to talk about terrorists who aren't lurking at the Mexican border. And it appears especially clear that Fox's agenda of existential threats is too crowded by immigration and lese-majeste to include transnational substate political violence.

* In that the video is from around 5 p.m. "last week," one may fairly wonder what this sentence is doing on the following Wednesday: "It wasn’t immediately clear whether the pedestrians were hurt or what caused the crash." If you'd like to conclude that Fox would rather you be scared than informed, that seems a fair conclusion.
** Update: At 2:15 p.m., still nothing among the top several dozen stories, though if you scroll down past "world" and "family" and "entertainment" until you reach "what to watch," there's this: "Rep. Lee Zeldin says deadly attack on US troops will intensify arguments to both stay and leave Syria." We are not impressed.
    Update II: As of 3:02, a Fox story posted "20 mins ago" begins thus:
    The horrifying moment in which a deadly suicide bomb exploded on a street in Syria on Wednesday was captured in a video that ISIS-sympathetic accounts then shared on Facebook.
   Two different accounts posted what appears to be the same video showing the bombing in Majib, which reportedly killed 16 people — including a number of U.S. service members. 

    This is the ninth of the also-ran stories that follow the top 5. It follows standard Fox fare like "McPhee wears wedding dress during fitting with stepdaughter"; "Broke teen who sold kidney for iPhone now bedridden for life";
"New footage shows Dems at swanky 'cocktail reception' in Puerto Rico amid government shutdown"; "‘SMILF’ creator opens up on misconduct allegations"; and "Military couple's surprise reunion in Texas caught on camera

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Corrections, policies and trust

Step forward, anyone* who hasn't made that million/billion swap at some point, even if you caught yourself right before going off the road, and even if you saw all the zeroes in your head as you were writing. We all make mistakes, and we all make them in stuff we know like the back of our hands. That's why we read over what we've written and employ editors and do other things to fend off the consequences of the human condition, because one of those consequences is that we all screw up.

You can see the Times's stylistic reasoning emerging in the first and fourth corrections. In the first, OK -- the thought of the writer banging their head on the nearest desk at the thought of having screwed up the million/billion thing probably means punishment enough, so no explanation of how the error came about. In the fourth, sure. Somebody subtracted the birth year from the current year and forgot to ask when the birthday was, or grabbed an outdated bio sheet, or something; there's nothing wrong with making clear that this bit of carelessness belongs with people the paper trusted, not the paper itself.

The other two ought to be a little more troubling:

An article on Monday about President Trump’s continuing conflicts with Congress misstated Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s schedule during the weekend. Her staff said she was in Washington; she had not, as the article stated, left town.

As in the fourth correction, this one suggests that the writer(s) took someone's word for something and didn't do the requisite checking. Is there some reason we're not told who provided the wrong information about the speaker's whereabouts? Because that seems to go to the question of why some people's word is too good for the Times to check, and I'd like to know some of the social/political correlates of that decision.

I can't track down from here the original offense described in the third correction, but it does seem to raise a similar question. The story is about the president's live phone call to a Fox host on Saturday night, in which red herring was one of many dishes on offer. Again: Who took what at face value without checking, and who's getting the benefit of the information subsidy here? Or is this just a case of a writer putting 2 and 2 together and getting 22?

I don't mean to suggest that these "prove" a bias. (I have a methods class to teach tonight, and at some point over the semester, I'll end up quoting a cherished methodology mentor: If you want proof, go to seminary. We're in the probability business.) An appropriate sample of Times corrections might even show that directional partisan trust is normally distributed over a year's worth of blunders.** But if the Times wants to keep suspicious from starting, it could stand to look at its conventional wisdom on when a correction decides to distribute blame. Newsroom politics aren't the only ones at stake.

* OK, "anyone who's written for publication in a hurry more than, like, five or six times." Sheez.
** Which is not the same as a year's worth of stories, but we'll get into that later.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Truth in advertising

Since those downtown hotels are filled with "auto industry executives and journalists from around the world," let's show 'em what big-town journalism looks like. We'll illustrate the 1A story about the water main break and the boil-water advisory with ... a picture of a pot of water boiling!

Just going out on a limb here, but imagine what might have happened if you tried to fit -- oh, maybe, a small map of the affected area in that last little corner of frontpage space. People might think you were trying to inform them or something.

Does it actually matter whether you grab the first stock photo available or try to do something meaningful with the real estate? Watch this space.

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Me subject, you object

If you really can't bear to break that old J-school rule about not having conjunctions in heds, maybe you could just fall back on "blames fight on 'bad day.'"

What fight, you ask? Well, it's not as if you'd find out from the lede:

Former Fox Sports Detroit analyst and Detroit Tigers announcer Rod Allen spoke with Free Press business columnist Carol Cain on the “Michigan Matters” program on Sunday morning on WWJ-TV (Channel 62).

Stop press! At least, until you've waded through three prepositional phrases and the relative clause that reminds you why you might care to get to something that he said:

In Allen’s first public comments about the Sept. 4 incident with play-by-play broadcaster Mario Impemba, which turned physical and effectively ended the duo’s 16-plus year run calling Tigers games, he said the situation was largely blown out of proportion in media reports.

Though maybe not really his first public comments:

... Last month, Allen published his first remarks since it was learned that neither he or Impemba would return to the Tigers' booth via a letter on social media.

Here is what he told Cain:

Asked if he would have done anything differently, Allen said, “You know, it’s funny that you say that because I’ve thought that over and over and over and I really can’t come up with anything differently that I would have done. We had a bad day, there’s no doubt about that. I didn’t have a good day, he did not have a good day as well, and because of that, it was an argument. There was no choking, there was no fighting, there was no chasing down the hallway.

So the "incident" that "turned physical" (according to the cutline, a "physical altercation") wasn't a fight? Or was it just a fight without any fighting? OK, find another headline. But please pay attention to the pronouns if you do. Poor old "whom" may be a lost cause, but you don't have to let "me" become a subject.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Reverse double suplex

The Fair 'n' Balanced Network really had the snowflakes on the run Friday morning, didn't it? Or ... what did that frontpage spot look like 12 hours later?
 Let's try to get a few more wrestling metaphors into the hed there, shall we?

 That's better.

Anyway, the story:

Wrestler turned international movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson body-slammed a British tabloid on Friday for posting what he called a “fabricated” interview featuring him bashing “snowflakes.”

Johnson took to Instagram Friday evening to “set the record straight” over a story published earlier in the day by The Daily Star. In the interview, he was quoted as lamenting the rise of snowflake culture and criticizing millennials’ need to search for reasons to be offended.

“Earlier today, online, an interview dropped with me, apparently it was with me, where I was insulting and criticizing millennials,” Johnson said in a video posted to his social media page. “The interview never took place. Never happened. Never said any of those words. Completely untrue. 100 percent fabricated.”

Wait -- he's saying a redtop out-and-out fabricated a story? About a CELEBRITY? Well, why is that our concern?

Media outlets, including Fox News, had picked up the story, in which the actor was said to have derided millennials for doing a disservice to war heroes by constantly complaining.

Fox was a little more enthusiastic than it lets on. It had already spun a companion story off the original fabrication before the rebuttal* caught up:
In fairness ("to be sure" is the technical journalistic term), it's technically possible that the Daily Star has exactly the exclusive it claims and the craven wrestler is running for cover on his agent's orders**:

He "laid the smackdown" on PC softies in an exclusive chat with the Daily Star.

While The People’s Champion applauds the fact nowadays anyone can “be who they want to be” the musclebound man-mountain raged at the constant offence snowflakes take from everything.

The legendary wrestler turned actor says it does a disservice to war heroes who fought for freedom of speech.

I don't keep up a lot with Dwayne Johnson's unscripted speech, so maybe somebody he's wont to lapse into British English collective noun agreement:

... “So many good people fought for freedom and equality - but this generation are looking for a reason to be offended.

So it sounds like we ought to to go with "at minimum, partially fabricated"; the Star is going to laugh all the way to the bank anyway, and Fox will have to go back to stoking its own outrages. But it's fun to note how a verb like "body-slams" can switch sides in such a hurry.***

* Both URLs point to the same story now, alas.
** See the comments at Fox; it takes a while to get down to the point where the text is updated, but it's worth the effort.
*** Maybe it means something different at Fox when you put in the hyphen than when you leave it out.

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Down with pronouns

Is it too much to ask? Let pronouns be pronouns, and let antecedents -- even the first-out-of-the-cliche-bag ones like "missing teen" and "abductor" -- do the heavy lifting in headlines? I know all the cool kids these days are writing deliberately vague heds, but come on. Even Fox (despite the adjective overload and the little oops with the "allegedly" thing; compare top and bottom) did better:
Back to CNN, though: Further points off for any headline that begins with "What we know about" or ends with "Here's what we know." Forbidden under all circumstances, at least until a neighbor has described the suspect as a quiet fella who kept to himself. And don't say "Here's a photo of ..." when what you have is a link, especially when it's a link to the same photo you've already shown.

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Saturday, January 05, 2019

Laced and laden

Of all the ways in which Rashida Tlaib's lone Very Naughty Word has been transformed into a basketful, the Freep's "expletive-studded" (at right) looks like it's farthest from the mark. Here's the OED on "studded":

Containing a number of objects or features placed or occurring at intervals. Chiefly with modifying word: strewn or punctuated with a specified object or feature.

Since one motherfucking sparrow doth not strew a summer, no. Somebody wasn't paying attention.

Points to the Freep, though, for calling out a Trump lie:

"I think she dishonored herself and she dishonored her family, using language like that in front of her son and whoever else was there. I thought it was highly disrespectful."

Tlaib's office didn't respond to Trump's remarks, though it confirmed that neither of her son,* who are 13 and 7, were present at the event when she made the comments. 

"Laced" and "laden" seem to be much more common misinterpretations:
The NYT's print hed has less space, but the text manages to get "exuberant, expletive-laden" above the fold:
And full marks to the Times for printing the Magic Word itself:
Broadly, I'm inclined to put "expletive-laden" in that category of terms that journalists reach for automatically, whether or not they've looked closely enough to see if the thing they're getting breathless over actually happened: like "limped into port," to borrow one of the Magic Phrases of Journalism, or anything having to do with bluegrass, anywhere. For the record, here's what an "expletive-laden rant" looked like to Fox last weekend:

Cardi defended Patientce in a since-deleted Instagram video (via In Touch), telling her followers, "That’s my b—h, that's my homegirl, and matter [of] fact, I am mad at Patientce. Wanna know why I'm mad at Patientce? Cause she should've spit in that f–king lady's face. That's why. So don't f—king tell me about my b—h, that's my b—h. And she's been doing a great f–king job and I thank her every single f–king day. Thank you."

"Laden," of course, means "loaded"; the two examples in the Merriam-Webster usage dictionary use noncount nouns ("wisdom" and "disquiet"), but they're pretty clearly in nontrace amounts. "Laced" is a bit trickier; I think of "rum-laced" as "LOADS AND LOADS of rum," but I suppose I could see a case in which "laced coffee" might be just a drop or two. Still, editors and writers would do well to avoid reaching into the cliche bag here; it's careless, sure, but it's the kind of carelessness that's hard to distinguish from stereotyping. If you aren't prepared to demonstrate that Rashida Tlaib has a lower lading capacity than your standard white Protestant college football coach, might as well not stick a paper clip in that particular light socket.

* This might be a War on Editing first: the typo is in the online version, but not in print.

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Friday, January 04, 2019

Locker-room talk

See if you can guess what has the party press on the fainting couch this morning:

Freshman U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib wasted no time in calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump just hours after being sworn in.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters Thursday night, the Michigan Democrat and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress said of Trump: "People love you and you win. And when your son looks at you and says, 'Momma, look you won. Bullies don't win.' And I said, 'Baby, they don't, because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the mother***er.'”*
Perhaps the snowflakes should calm down a bit. If you were writing a set of rules for coding political speech,** it'd be hard not to count that as "locker-room talk" -- though admittedly more like a rookie who had doubled twice, singled and stolen a base in the first game of the Series than like an old con artist after a golf game. And it does seem a bit late in the going to get all huffy about locker-room talk. Maybe Rep. Tlaib should try changing the subject?
You know, when we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have — and, frankly, drowning people in steel cages, where you have wars and horrible, horrible sights all over, where you have so many bad things happening, this is like medieval times. We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.
And they look and they see. Can you imagine the people that are, frankly, doing so well against us with ISIS? And they look at our country and they see what’s going on.
Yes, I’m very embarrassed by it. I hate it. But it’s locker room talk, and it’s one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS. We’re going to defeat ISIS. ISIS happened a number of years ago in a vacuum that was left because of bad judgment. And I will tell you, I will take care of ISIS.
So no, "unveiled" probably wasn't an accident either.
There are some cool subroutines of news practice going on in Fox's follow-up:
"Profanity," of course, would be something like asking God to damn the head of state. And how one "motherfucker" makes a statement "profanity-laced" -- apparently that's just another Magic Phrase of Journalism.
The fear knob certainly has been dialed up to 11 the past couple days at Fox. Here's the lead story from Thursday around 7 a.m.:
 And from 11:25:
And from 1:45:
So the question for the audience at year's end was: Is Fox scared of girls? The answer seems to be that Fox is scared of almost everything, but it's flat-out terrified of girls.
* Could you at least count the motherfucking asterisks, please?
** There's still space in that Tuesday night content analysis course, kids!

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