Friday, August 26, 2016

Currency devaluation

Nobody ever walked out of the old bandbox commenting on the gem just twirled by the portly portsider. Really. That's just the way sports deskers fit the elongated yellow fruit of their craft into the merciless space left after the ads were sold. (On the other side of the room, ire was stoked as bus slay punk was bailed and thousands fled blaze.) So there's a bit of nostalgic charm in awakening to a perfectly preserved relic of the past -- sort of like seeing a triceratops on the front lawn, rubbing the painful bruise on its head and looking around for its wallet and keys.

The top of the picture is included here for scale. There's actually room there for "to defeat Twins" or something equally mundane, but that's really another point. "Gem" doesn't yield to an exact definition, though we expect a lot out of it: if not always a no-hitter, at least a pretty good shutout and/or minimal hits. Not -- with all regard to anyone who increases the odds of the blimp being overhead for October night classes -- giving up two runs in 6 1/3 innings. I'm all for the sound of ash against horsehide, of manual typewriters, of rotary-dial phones being slammed down on the hopes of press agents, but let's have a little respect for the game here.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Today in race-baiting

If you're bored by the latest in Drudgian frame-setting, you can always head downpage and see what the party has told Fox to say today about the whole race thing. Of some interest in today's incarnation of this now-familiar dog whistle is that neither "Mohammed" uses that spelling: the first is a Mohamed, the second a Muhammad. (Oh, and the question of how and whether the second was "recruited" by ISIS, but that gets into Drudge's wholesale abandonment of direct objects and is a matter for another day.)

Anyway, aside from its hilarious misunderstanding of what "neoliberal" already means, this column a few weeks ago from extraplanetary historian Victor Davis Hanson put the Angry  White Man perspective on the current campaign in a new light:

Clinton versus Trump is a war of NPR, CBS and The New York Times against the National Enquirer, conservative talk radio and the Drudge Report. Clinton supporters such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, onetime Bush officials Hank Paulson and Brent Scowcroft, and billionaire Meg Whitman certainly have nothing in common with Republican Trump supporters such as Mike Huckabee and Rush Limbaugh.

So it's sort of like the Battle of Five Armies, now with added BatBoy?



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Sunday, August 21, 2016

That's why they call it ...

What was the problem with those ladies-in-waiting, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

An article on Page 174 this weekend about the idea of waiting for things as a cultural trend misstates the English period when a lady-in-waiting could become the king’s mistress or wife. It was possible during the Tudor era in England, as well as other eras, but not during the Elizabethan period. (There were no kings of England during the Elizabethan era.)

So ... not just Victorian prudishness?

I'm trying to imagine how exciting the rest of the magazine might be if you can get through 173 pages and still have "the idea of waiting for things as a cultural trend" before you. Not having a lot of luck so far.  

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

What about Vice, your honor?

"Go online and Google it" is an exceptionally stupid answer in a political debate, but if you've thrown away all the paper dictionaries, maybe it'll do in a pinch for copy editors.

Not sure why, but when this one showed up on the Facebooks (thanks to editors, of course), I was put in mind of a Liebling piece without being able to place it. Amazing what Google does:

Once we had a Mayor of New York named Gaynor, who lived in Brooklyn and used to walk the Brooklyn Bridge every morning to City Hall, attended by the reporters for the afternoon papers. I was a child then, but when I went to work in 1924 I met a lot of the fellows who had walked with His Honor.

There were crusaders then, too, on another pet subject, though for another reason: prurient interest.

“And what about Vice, your Honor,” some poor devil would have to ask every morning, because his editor had instructed him.

“What vice?” the Mayor would ask. “Avarice?”

He had hit the publishers’ favorite.


If you're a framing person (and if you hang around here, you should be), you can read "Horsefeathers Swathed In Mink" online. See if the lede rings a bell:

There is no concept more generally cherished by publishers than that of the Undeserving Poor.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Shut up, he ladded

The morning's top story at the Fair 'n' Balanced network didn't get much of an edit (it's fair to suggest that it didn't even get a spellcheck), but there's something particularly delightful about the last graf:

After praising Manafort for helping his father's campaign through the tough primaries, Eric Trump ladded, "But again, my father just didn’t want to have the distraction looming over the campaign and quite frankly looming over all the issues that Hillary’s facing right now."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Remain calm! All is well!

Your lips to God's ears -- or, more specifically, from Gateway Pundit to Drudge to the Washington Times to the Fox Nation. The black guy's playing golf again!

That puts into context Monday morning's commentary from Howard Kurtz, called in to explain the latest outburst from the Party Leader:

... There are two simultaneous realities here: The media are in the midst of the most one-sided reporting and analysis I’ve ever seen in a presidential campaign. And Trump keeps giving them ammunition. Even if they are overplaying and misinterpreting his comments on “Second Amendment people” and “founder of ISIS” and the like, these are his words, on videotape, that stir the constant controversies that have overshadowed the coverage of Hillary Clinton.

Kurtz is taking on the Chip Diller role at Fox here: Remain calm! It's the media! All is well! And no doubt he's right: it might well be the most one-sided reporting of a campaign he's ever seen, or at least that he remembers having seen. Howard Kurtz lives and works on a planet on which there's actually an FDA-recommended adult minimum for stories in which everything the Kenyan usurper does (golfing, having dinner, raising teenagers) is an affront to American values, just by his doing it. That's the context in which to take the claim that an unhealthy focus on the Party Leader's moral and lexical cluelessness is diverting attention from "coverage of Hillary Clinton."

A balanced campaign story would look more like this:


 ... in which "'rigging' charge" is a thing, rather than an object of ridicule.

I don't mean to suggest that there's no room left for an even-handed, indoor-voices presentation of the relevant evidence that allows the masses to do their democratic duty. I would suggest that Howard Kurtz is rapidly running out of lipstick to dress up the truckload of pigs that Fox leaves in his inbox every day.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Today in journalism: Campaigns and biases

Since it's well and truly BIAS ALERT season over at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, let's set the controls for this day in 1988, with the Washington Post explaining why a reporter is leaving the crosstown competition.

Long story short, the WashTimes had been lusting for some time after a story that would say Michael Dukakis (the Democratic nominee, in case he's slipped your mind) had undergone psychiatric treatment. Having finally found someone who would go so far as "it's possible, but I doubt it," the national desk put "it's possible" on the front and "I doubt it" somewhere after the jump. Surprised to find a made-up story under their bylines, both reporters on the story then quit (at the time of the hed above, one hadn't decided).*

As Walter Lippmann put it many years ago, "for the most part, we do not see first and then define; we define first and then see." The party press doesn't always, or necessarily often, make its news up (though if you read a lot of Fox, you can be forgiven for wondering why the stories so frequently fall short of the headlines). It sees the same events but, having defined the stage and players differently, sees a different world -- one in which "I doubt it" means "STOP THE PRESS!"

Hence "Bias Alert," a quadrennial Fox feature meant to remind the faithful that (a) all they hold dear is at every moment in existential peril and (b) their cries for help will be ignored by a corrupt media. This year's version started at midweek, "Media attempts to justify continued Trump bashing" and "Media confess to Trump bashing, try to justify it" at top left, by Fox media critic Howard Kurtz:

The media’s legions of Trump-bashers are finally acknowledging the obvious.

And trying their best to justify it.

But there’s one problem: Tilting against one candidate in a presidential election can’t be justified.
Read more »

How news works

News doesn't happen by accident, but it does happen by routine. Let's see how many of the unwritten rules of Fox practice we can figure out from this page-turner!

FOX News announced a new senior leadership team and management structure today, naming Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy and Senior Executive Vice President Bill Shine to serve as Co-Presidents effective immediately. The announcement was made by the network's founder, Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman of 21st Century Fox and Executive Chairman of FOX News Channel & FOX Business Network, to whom Mr. Abernethy and Mr. Shine will report.

First off, as the ear over the hed indicates, it's a "U.S. regions" story -- thus, not categorized as economic, crime, immigration, terrorism or personal freedom news. (Fox seems to know I'm checking in from Michigan, so most of the top "regions" stories suggested for me are about Muslims Behaving Badly.) So whoever this is meant for, it's more "local" than "business."

The style deviations indicate something else. Fox is generally careless with its copy editing, so even when it misses its signature tweaks to wire copy ("homicide bomber" for "suicide bomber," for example, or "Koran" for "Quran"), it's hard to distinguish sloppiness from one-off error from layoff-induced haste from an actual policy change. The capitalized standalone titles, then, might just be a glitch, but the courtesy titles aren't. Those didn't go in by accident, and they suggest that there went out a decree: Nobody touch the story; it's been approved. Even to point out that ....

In addition, Suzanne Scott has been named Executive Vice President of Programming and Development for FNC and will continue reporting to Mr. Shine. In this position, Scott will supervise FNC’s daytime and primetime opinion shows and lead development of new programming.

... if the boys have courtesy titles, perhaps the girls should have them too? Maybe Fox is making up for all those decades during which the AP required courtesy titles for women but not for men. Or maybe a portal to another dimension opens if somebody at Fox says "Ms." As above, it's hard to tell.

Most of the story is standard press release, even when it gets to the thanks for your many years of service, and we'll send your family a bill for the bullet "embarks on a new chapter" part:

FOX News also announced that Chief Financial Officer Mark Kranz will be retiring. Throughout his tenure, Mr. Kranz was promoted from Director to Vice President of Finance, eventually assuming the role of CFO for both FNC and FBN. He joined the network from Viacom in 1997.

In commenting on the announcement, Mr. Murdoch said, “Over his 19 years with FOX News, Mark Kranz was instrumental in increasing profitability across all of our key properties. We are grateful for his many contributions to the company and we extend our best wishes to him as he embarks on a new chapter."

Wondering what brought that on? Maybe the New York Times can explain:

On Friday, Fox also announced that its longtime chief financial officer, Mark Kranz, would retire. His departure was linked to his oversight of the network’s finances during a period when financial settlements were made with women who had complained of harassment, according to two people who requested anonymity to describe internal matters.

Oh. You mean it's a story about ... how did that Times story start again?

In assuming the leadership of Fox News last month, Rupert Murdoch pledged a fresh start at a network reeling from accusations that its longtime chairman, Roger Ailes, had overseen a culture of harassment and intimidation.

But on Friday, Mr. Murdoch made clear that — for now at least — Fox’s new era will be led by its old guard.


So the Fox story is sort of like announcing that new condo development at Isengard without mentioning the property's flood insurance challenges. That's the root of the general mandate (pay attention, PR students) against running press releases verbatim. News practice requires telling you why a story is interesting. That doesn't always mean the "nut graf" of journalism lore -- at Fox, you can just drop in a mug shot of Obama to remind you that somewhere in the text is an existential threat to your constitutional freedoms. But broadly, if a story doesn't bother with you should care, there's at least an outside chance you're not supposed to know.

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