Sunday, August 12, 2018

The missing middle

If you're fond of Fox (and you know you are), you've seen this fake news trick before. It's how "a longtime activist against Islam" arrested for violating a court order gets into the headlines as "arrested for filming outside child grooming outside trial": all you do is leave out the middle term in the news syllogism.

In the case at hand, as it turns out, there are half a dozen middle terms, assisted by a head fake from the particular journalistic use of "after" to mean "as a consequence of" or "in the course of" ("2 killed after truck hits car"). This is more or less the sequence, as Fox tells it:

  • Suspect tries to fill water cup with soda
  • Employee tells him he'll have to pay for that; suspect declines and leaves the restaurant
  • Employee follows to remind suspect he isn't welcome back
  • Suspect responds by trying to kick employee and heads for another restaurant
  • Cops pursue him into bathroom of second restaurant, where he begins "to resist and fight with the officers"
  • Enter the Taser
So, technically, yes. He was "Tasered after filling water cup with soda," but you probably don't need to look over your shoulder the next time you go for seconds -- any more than the jackbooted advance guards of sharia law will swoop down on you if you go to Britain and decide to film a random street scene with your phone. The latter is a more distinctively Foxian ideology, but the former is ideological as well, as long as you count tabloidism as an ideology.

And yes, "Coke Fiend" is in strikingly poor taste, but at least it holds out the possibility that someone at Fox thinks "Coke" is a generic term for soft drinks.

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Saturday, August 04, 2018

In the paint

Did something seem oddly familiar about this morning's Fair 'n' Balanced lead story?

President Trump responded by Twitter on Friday night to a CNN anchor's recent interview with an NBA superstar.

"Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn't easy to do. I like Mike!" Trump tweeted.
"Recent interview," you say? Could that have been ... the topic of Tuesday's lead story?
LeBron James criticized President Trump on Monday, accusing him of trying to divide the country by using sports as his focal point.

The new Los Angeles Lakers star said Trump created a wedge by capitalizing on the controversy surrounding former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem.
It's hard at this remove to tell who's dunking on whom, given that the president seems to be practicing his set shot while LeBron either calms the crowd or rubs the invisible magic lamp that summons Don Lemon. But the Fox treatment does suggest that there's one whiny, dumb snowflake on the court here, and it isn't either one of the smart people who did an interview on Monday.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Now known as 'glamor'

Well! Good thing the Fair 'n' Balanced Network had a lead story for Tuesday afternoon, so the faithful wouldn't be distracted by any pesky stories about anyone's former campaign manager going on trial or anything:

Twitter’s campaign to foster healthier conversations on its platform with the aid of academics is itself facing an allegation of anti-Trump bias.

In previous tweets from their personal accounts, a number of the academics involved in the high-profile project have repeatedly slammed the Trump administration.
Sound familiar? Drudge foreshadowed it on Monday afternoon:
And you know that when "academics" are hired to "monitor" "hate speech," no good is going to come of it. Scare quotes and all, as it turns out, we've known that since 1942. The World's Greatest Newspaper is going to tell us all we need to know about Harold Lasswell, investigator of "glamor" (or, as you might recall from your first masscomm survey class, the guy who articulated the who-says-what-to-whom-through-what-channel formula for looking at media effects). At the Trib, of course, he's just another nutty perfesser:

The propaganda rating of America's newspapers, it was disclosed today, is being studied by Harold D. Lasswell, a former University of Chicago assistant professor who attained publicity a decade ago thru:
1. A scholarly investigation of the meaning of "it," a feminine quality now popularity* known as "glamor" and termed thruout history by various titles, all meaning what the boys like in the opposite sex.
2. A learned thesis on the meaning of the Bronx cheer -- an expression which also has historic qualities but which Dr. Lasswell now thinks has no place in newspaper columns.
A Formula of Questions.
Lasswell is director of war communications research for the library of congress and has produced a "weighted average" system intended to be used in measuring the volume of Nazi propaganda in American publications. The system was explained at a postoffice hearing by Dr. Lasswell himself.
The Post Office, you might recall, was a pretty big factor in the travails of the "vermin press"; this particular hearing was about banning The X-Ray from the mails, and a month earlier, Fr. Coughlin's Social Justice had been impounded at the Royal Oak post office** to see if it was still being seditious. See if you can figure out why the Trib (or Fox, or Drudge) might be so concerned about Lasswell's formula for analyzing a publication:

1. Does it follow the Nazi propaganda that the United States is economically corrupt?
2, Does it oppose the administration's foreign policy or conduct of the war?
3. Does it assail the President on moral or ethical grounds?
4. Does it disparage Great Britain or other allies?
5. Does it say that Washington is run by  Communists, plutocrats, Jews, or crooks?
I hope we can all agree at this remove that the Roosevelt administration overreacted to the threat of the vermin press (though at the same time, we can note that banning Alex Jones from Twitter in 2018 isn't the same as banning The X-Ray or Social Justice from the mail in 1942). And there's not a lot of point to having a free press if anyone isn't free to oppose any administration's foreign policy. It's still worth noting who screams loudest when one asks why some news outlets consistently paint their enemies as commies, crooks and people named Soros.

* (Sic), adjective fans. The War on Editing has been with us for a while. This is May 1942, so only a few weeks until an unfortunately accurate headline was part of a package that almost got the paper indicted.
** It's still there. The new parking deck across the street looks really nice, too.

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Oh, go ahead and give it a try

Dear local fount of knowledge: If you're going to leave all your national news decisions to USA Today, do you suppose you could talk them into doing some editing, too?

On the bright side, at least someone didn't make it "former President Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort."

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Monday, July 30, 2018

How fake news works

Won't that just put you off your cornflakes? Right at the top of the page, a deadly virus -- coming right at you! 

Or not. Does it seem a little less exciting when you click through to the Metro story?
Pesky news routines! The headline doesn't tell you whether it's "this" pandemic or "any old" pandemic, but at least -- well, what is it?

A chilling simulation has revealed just how easily a new pathogen could wipe out a huge slice of the world’s population – up to 900 million people.

Researchers at John* Hopkins University simulated the spread of a new illness – a new type of parainfluenza, known as Clade X.

How many experts, and what are they warning us about?

American politicians played out the scenario – which was built to be extremely realistic – where a doomsday cult released a genetically engineered virus.

By the end of the simulation in May, representing 20 months after the start of the outbreak, there were 150 million dead around the world – and no vaccine.

The researchers say that the simulation would have ended with up to 900 million dead, nearly 10% of the world’s population.

That'd be a good bit more than 10% of the world's population, but of course that's not what the experts said, given that -- as the preceding paragraph says --  the simulation ended with 150 million dead. (None of them killed by either Clade X or Bigfoot.) Metro is playing at news, not doing news; there are two outgoing links in the text, but both go to versions of the same Business Insider story.

Business Insider doesn't exactly cover itself with glory either, which should be a sign unto you when you see it quoted regularly. But it does get some details:

On May 15, when the "Clade X" simulation was played out real-time, the people acting out the scenario were the sorts of individuals who'd be responding to this situation in real life.

... Yet by the day's end, representing 20 months after the start of the outbreak, there were 150 million dead around the globe, and 15 to 20 million deaths in the US alone.

With no vaccine for the illness yet ready, that death toll would have been expected to climb.

"I think we learned that even very knowledgeable, experienced, devoted senior public officials who have lived through many crises still have trouble dealing with something like this," Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health Security and the designer of the Clade X simulation, told Business Insider.

... "If efforts to develop a vaccine continued to fail, Toner said a disease like this could kill 900 million people, or more than 10 percent of the world's population.

Let the record show here that I have no objection to stories about sandtable exercises or about public perceptions of responses to emergencies (that's one of the things I write about). This seems like a pretty good story idea -- so good that it would be surprising if someone hadn't covered it back in May. The Washington Post, for example:
A novel virus, moderately contagious and moderately lethal, has surfaced and is spreading rapidly around the globe. Outbreaks first appear in Frankfurt, Germany, and Caracas, Venezuela. The virus is transmitted person-to-person, primarily by coughing. There are no effective antivirals or vaccines. U.S. troops stationed abroad are infected. Now the first case to reach the United States had been identified on a small college campus in Massachusetts.

So began a recent day-long exercise hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The simulation mixed details of past disasters with fictional elements to force government officials and experts to make the kinds of key decisions they could face in a real pandemic.

It was a tense day. The exercise was inspired in part by the troubled response to the Ebola epidemic of 2014, and everyone involved was acutely aware of the very real and ongoing Ebola outbreak spreading in Congo.

In the simulation, a bipartisan group of current and former high-ranking U.S. government officials played a team of presidential advisers faced with a host of real-world policy, political and ethical dilemmas. The actors included former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who played the Senate majority leader, and Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), who played herself. They had to react as the outbreak unfolded according to a script provided by Johns Hopkins, with no advance knowledge about how the mock disaster would play out.

I could do without any more headlines that begin "This" forever, but otherwise a pretty nice story. Not at all what you might think if you get your news from the Drudge Report, though.

* Yes, this would have been a red flag for a real editor.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Today in framing

Granted, there's lots of other Fox stuff to talk about, and lots of other framing stuff, and no shortage of grammar stuff either. But the morning's top story at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network really captures the essence of how framing works -- and how it doesn't.
Got the difference? The hammer hed goes from "Rahm's Spendy City" (captured at 9:24 a.m. Eastern) to "Spendy City," with no change to the Photoshopped image,* a minor trim to the deck, and no mention -- still -- in the 519-word text of the guy in the image (much less "debt-plagued" or "blue stronghold," but that's piling on).

That elision isn't a problem if you're a Fox reader. Rahm Emanuel is in that rare category of Fox villains who can summarize a lead story just by illustrating it (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also comes to mind). When you say "Rahm" (or when, on reconsidering, you merely show him), you've said not just "Chicago" but all the related things that set your Fox audience to gibbering in fear: big cities, black people, feckless liberals, random violence, brown people, Obama, crooked politics, "the Chicago way," black people and the grasping hand of socialist big government. Sounds like a pretty good ROI.

That's the point of framing: "To select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and/or treatment recommendation for the item described" (Entman, 1993). Properly done, an image can do all those at once without breaking a sweat -- for the right audience. If you're not a regular Fox reader, one or all of those primes might have blown right past you.** Framing is a contingent theory, not a magic-bullet theory; moral evaluations can be a feature of the message (hence Ahmadinejad could be a "dictator," even though the Iranian presidency is too constrained to allow for effective dictatoring), but they're more likely to arise from the context in which the message lands.  

Whatever else might be going on in the world, you can see why "Spendy City" is the top story: You can't take your eyes off these people for a moment, or they'll be back to digging away at the foundations of everything that made America great. And the great man's triumphant meeting with the Russian tyrant? It didn't have the right definition and interpretation*** until about noon:
Got it? This will be on the final.

If you find Planet Fox a confusing place, be reassured. Here's how A.J. Liebling described a similar planetfall in 1950:

The visitor to Chicago, awakening unalarmed in his hotel room and receiving the Tribune with his breakfast tray, takes a look at the headlines and finds himself at once transported into a land of somber horror, rather like that depicted by the science-mystery magazines. ...  As he turns the pages of the Tribune, the stranger is likely to get the feeling that some of the people and events he is reading about superficially resemble people and events he remembers having read about in the world outside, but he never can be sure.

... The effect on the adrenal glands of the morning dip into the Tribune's cosmos is amazing. The Tribune reader issues from his door walking on the balls of his feet, muscles tense, expecting attacks by sex-mad footpads at the next street corner, forewarned against the smooth talk of strangers with a British accent, and prepared to dive behind the first convenient barrier at the sound of a guided missile approaching -- any minute now -- from the direction of northern Siberia.

Should you be wondering how the Tribune treated the president's role in US-Russia relations in the good old days (Nov. 10, 1941), the cartoon is by Carey Orr. Photoshop, you have to admit, is weak tea in comparison.

 * Given the role of the 1A editorial cartoon in Chicago journalism history, I'm disappointed.
** WAKE UP, AMERICA!!1!1!!!!!!!!!!!!
*** I yield to none in my disdain for heds that play on proper names, but you have to admit a certain appreciation for "Vlad the Emailer."

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fox weirds verbing: Double downed

Looks like we have enough data points for a trend here: Fox moving the inflection from the verb to the preposition, as in the earlier "water-downed." (Alas, it's been fixed in the text online, but the screen grab doesn't lie.)

I haven't seen a slightly different version, in which the inflection in a VP moves from verb to object ("Trump lower booms"), for a bit. Hope it's still out there.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

The mysterious Oriented-business

Tell us more about that law Stormy Daniels was accused of violating down there in Columbus, Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper!

Police said they began enforcing the laws for sexually oriented-business employees touching patrons this past fall. Franklin County Municipal Court records show 25 people have been charged under the illegal touching law so far in 2018, up from 16 in 2017 and seven in 2016.

Even with its editing offshored to a Gatehouse hub, the Dispatch hasn't lost its high-school-student-like obsession with hyphenating compounds. This one's particularly charming because it sticks to the AP rule about not hyphenating compounds with -ly adverbs, yielding the memorable "sexually oriented-business." I suppose we're lucky it stopped there.

H/t to operative "Natasha" of the Central Ohio bureau. 

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