Thursday, January 07, 2021

How Fox tells the story

You could spend a week with the Boy Scout Handbook trying to unravel the knots that the Fair 'n' Balanced Network has tied itself in just over the past 32 hours, so let's content ourselves with looking at a couple of handy Fox storytelling techniques in this presentation from around 6:15 p.m. Thursday. 

 In the lead story, we have an illustration of the first-day-of-editing-class rule that the best place to look for a headline is the first independent clause of the lede. The Mouth of Sauron gave a briefing to condemn the "appalling, reprehensible" violence, and there we are. Contrast that with the story in the No. 2 position. The hed's entirely true: Biden does indicate that BLM protesters would have been treated differently, but that shows up in the ninth graf, more than halfway into a 710-word story.

If you're a Fox reader, of course, "What about unity?" makes perfect sense, because a different theme -- Democrat hypocrisy -- is why the story is on the front page. Unity, or the more general idea of a campaign pledge to be a unifier, doesn't appear anywhere in the story, which spends a lot of time on the 25th Amendment, but unity doesn't have to be mentioned. You don't need to say "Goldstein" to run the Two Minute Hate. And for you doubters, of course it's objective; aren't the first two words "President-elect"? (If you're interested in how news organizations invest a zero-sum resource like time, this story has four contributors: one named in the byline and three in the shirttail.)

The overall "well, he started it" theme continues with the No. 4 story, because it's never too early to point out that the liberal media hate you and everything you stand for. This one's by a Fox "senior editor," not one of the regular media critics, but it has the formula down. Cite the offending statement:

"Look at them, they’re high-fiving each other for this deplorable display of completely unpatriotic, completely against law and order, completely unconstitutional behavior, it’s stunning," he said. "And they’re going to go back, you know, to the Olive Garden and to the Holiday Inn they’re staying at, and the Garden Marriott, and they’re going to have some drinks and they're going to talk about the great day they had in Washington ... They stood up for nothing other than mayhem."

... quote a few offended randos on Twitter, and always conclude with a no-comment:

A spokesperson for Olive Garden did not respond to requests for comment.

But the No. 5 story is the real classic. The top story was a straight-ahead who-what-where off a news conference, but this one lets Fox show some initiative on behalf of the Dear Leader (six Fox staffers contribute, with an added credit for The AP, to the 465-word text):

Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen vowed that pro-Trump rioters who entered the U.S. Capitol would "face the full consequences of their actions under the law," and those consequences could include being charged under President Trump's executive order authorizing up to 10 years in prison for "injury of federal property."

"Our criminal prosecutors have been working throughout the night with special agents and investigators from the U.S. Capitol Police, FBI, ATF, Metropolitan Police Department and the public to gather the evidence, identify perpetrators and charge federal crimes where warranted," Rosen said in a statement on Thursday.

Isn't that exactly what Dear Leader told his cult it would do the day before? 

They’ll knock out Lincoln too, by the way. They’ve been taking his statue down, but then we signed a little law. You hurt our monuments, you hurt our heroes, you go to jail for 10 years and everything stopped. Did you notice that? It stopped. It all stopped.

There is a slight problem if you hang on for the sixth graf:

... Rosen did not reference the executive order, which Trump signed in June after protesters targeted historic monuments and statues in the wake of George Floyd's death.


Now, the lede doesn't technically credit Rosen with the line about the executive order; that's in a separate independent clause. But news writing has a bad habit of dropping a comma in where it wants to mark another complementized clause (blame the craftwide belief that "that" is invariably a Needless Word), so it's genuinely hard to pin down on the first go. 

One could go on, but Fox is busy doing more stuff.




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Friday, January 01, 2021

Today in ledes

Ledes were different in the old days:

Globular little Howard C. Hopson, once the high-pressure head of the billion-dollar Associated Gas & Electric System and now, at 58, a neurotic hypochondriac, was convicted yesterday of grubbing $20,000,000 from the pockets of his company's 7000,000 shareholders.

New York Daily News, Jan. 1, 1941


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Another fabricated Fox story

 You almost -- maybe, for a moment -- want to feel a twinge of sympathy for the Fair 'n' Balanced Network. The cult of the orange monkey-god has taken up the chant of "Fox News Sucks," but aside from its daring decision to call the enemy candidate the "president-elect," Fox hasn't changed a thing about story selection, sourcing, framing or (ahem, you know) out-and-out fabrication from its days as the president's tame pet.

Tuesday morning's lead story is a fine example. We're promised at the top of the homepage that "'unprecedented' droves" of Californians are planning some kind of "blitz," apparently involving "change of residences," in hopes of tilting the two Senate runoffs in Stalin's direction -- hence the "stern legal warning." On the story itself, the hed is softer, but the deck less ambiguous, blitzwise:

The general rules of headline writing suggest that somewhere in the text, that "vast number" and their intent will be spelled out. The lede is often considered a good place to start looking:

A host of California residents and California-based political organizations are prepared to descend on Georgia to campaign for two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates whose victory would have profound implications for the direction of the country.

Well, that's a bit of a disappointment on the election-fraud front (though we do find out who's doing the actual reporting around here). Maybe they're hiding in the second graf!

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Democrats in the Golden State have been hounding political organizers with questions about how they can travel to Georgia to volunteer for Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.

No, not there either. Let's skip some background information and see if we can catch those details by surprise:

... The runoff election has fired up Democrats from out of state. According to campaign finance data, more than 83% of funds for Ossof’s* campaign came from outside Georgia, as did nearly 80% of funds for Warnock’s fall campaign.

Flip the West, a California-based organization “dedicated to harnessing grassroots power to help Democrats take back the U.S. Senate, has filled up more than 7,500 phone bank shifts for making calls to Georgia, according to the Chronicle. Additionally, more than 16,000 volunteers have signed up to send postcards to Georgia voters reminding them to vote in the runoff election.

Still sounds pretty remote, doesn't it? Surely there must be something!

... Others are prepared to physically travel to Georgia. Manny Yekutiel, a political activist who owns a civic engagement space in San Francisco’s Mission District, said he has been bombarded with calls asking him: “When do I move to Georgia? Where can I stay? Should I get a block of hotel rooms?”

Fox is bending the rules, not breaking them. It would be courteous to point out that this quote too was lifted from a professional news organization, but the nod in the second graf kinda-sorta spreads its magic glitter over the subsequent borrowings (which, again, are from a standard if well detailed report on campaign volunteering). From here on out, though, it's all Fox:

Among the most high-profile people who said they were moving to Georgia just to vote in the election is former Democratic Presidential nominee Andrew Yang. 

“Great news #yanggang – Evenlyn** and I are moving to Georgia to help @ossoff and @ReverendWarnock win!” Yang tweeted earlier this month. “This is our only chance to clear Mitch out of the way and help Joe and Kamala get things done in the next 4 years.”

The vast number of people who said they were willing to move to Georgia just so they can vote in the runoff election has prompted state officials to push back on the idea. 

Yang's tweet, needless to say, doesn't say anything about voting intent, nor is there any support for the "vast number" who plan to follow him -- not even in this three-day-old article by one of the Fox staffers credited with contributing:

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system manager, said during a Thursday press conference that there has been “discussion about people coming in from out of state” to “help Georgia,” naming 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang as “the most famous” example.

So with the droves and blitzes vanishing into the mist, how's that stern legal warning (from last Thursday) holding up? Back to our top story:

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system manager, cautioned during a press conference last week that doing so would violate state law.

“In order to be able to register to vote in Georgia, you have to be a Georgia resident,” he said. “That means you have to believe you are staying in Georgia.”

Those who try to vote in Georgia while merely visiting the state may face felony charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.”

I suppose it's a sign of Our Times that Fox needed three staffers (one with the byline, two in the shirttail) to spin somebody else's reporting, some preemptive YANKEES ARE MESSING WITH OUR WAY OF LIFE! squeals from Georgia, and a vague celebrity tweet into a scare story worth the top of the page. You'd like to think a lone reporter from the Hearst or McCormick glory days could knock the whole thing out before lunch.

* Nor has Fox tinkered with its legendary attention to detail.
** Sigh.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Fear 'n' balanced on the campaign trail

 Looks like we have a campaign reporting trend here at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network -- or at least, with two occurrences in three days, the end of the beginning of a trend. It works like this: First (Monday morning, above), proclaim that the old guy with the mask is staying home for the day (a favorite theme of late) while your own energetic hero is burning up the old campaign trail:

The November election is just about one week away, but Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is in Delaware with no campaign events scheduled on Monday, even as President Trump heads to Pennsylvania looking to erase his opponent's lead.

And in case you didn't get the point:

 ... The Trump campaign has frequently taken aim at Biden for his lack of campaign events -- Trump has dubbed his Democratic opponent "basement Joe" -- and reiterated that criticism on Monday.

"No events for Joe Biden today???" Jason Miller, a senior adviser for the Trump campaign, tweeted. "He's lid crazy!" (Calling a lid refers to a candidate or campaign indicating to the press that they will not hold any more events, typically for the remainder of day).

Well, what do you do when the cunning old socialist sneaks out and actually takes questions? Here's Monday evening's No. 3 story, at right (the image on the left is there to help you compare a really serious Twisted Scheme with the one involving that ungrateful woman in neighboring Michigan). First, pretend your previous story never happened:

Reporters were given a rare opportunity to ask Joe Biden questions during his campaign stop on Monday afternoon in Chester, Pa. 

Then recite the questions, but don't mention the answers (as in literally, nowhere in the story):

Here's what reporters asked:

"You've kept a relatively light public schedule in the past few days, can you give us a sense of how much you'll be traveling in the next few days?"

"Are you confident enough with your standing in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan? Are you expanding the map by traveling to Iowa?"

"You said as part of your commission you would look into how long justices serve on the court. Does that mean you're open to term limits?"

Considering how whiny Fox gets when Old Mask Guy doesn't discuss the Supreme Court, you'd think the answers might be of some ... but no, that's not going to get you that coveted spot on the Fox media desk, is it? Anyway, on to Wednesday morning:

The Tucker Carlson interview accounts for the top two stories (hitting both themes above, with the subject of the clusterfestivities promoted to "whistleblower"), but there in the No. 3 position:

President Trump will hold two campaign rallies in the battleground state of Arizona on Wednesday as his Democratic rival Joe Biden, back in his home state of Delaware, hears a briefing from public health officials on the coronavirus pandemic with just six days left until the election.

... Biden's campaign pledged last week that he was "going to campaign aggressively" in the final 11 days before the election, but since the second and final debate on Thursday night, the candidate has ventured out of Delaware just a handful of times. On Saturday and Monday, he campaigned in Pennsylvania, and on Tuesday, Biden traveled to Georgia.

... The Trump campaign has frequently taken aim at Biden for his lack of campaign events  — Trump has dubbed his Democratic opponent "basement Joe"  — and reiterated that criticism Monday.*

“He doesn’t leave his basement,” the president told reporters on Monday. “He’s a pathetic candidate.”

But wait! The candidate shows up on schedule, so it must be time for more questions (Wednesday afternoon):

Joe Biden took questions from reporters on Wednesday for the first time since Tucker Carlson’s interview with Tony Bobulinski, a former business associate of Hunter Biden who said the Biden family dismissed concerns that the Democratic nominee's alleged ties to his son's business deals could put a presidential campaign at risk.

But the media members on hand didn’t bother to ask about it.

... Reporters ignored the bombshell allegations, instead asking the Democratic presidential nominee about ongoing looting and unrest in Philadelphia and the Affordable Care Act before he hurried off into a waiting black SUV.


Three paragraphs of reaction from the Trump campaign, then the lead reporter (another three are listed in the shirttail) takes stage again with some shock and damn:

There has been a near blackout of coverage of Bobulinski’s shocking claims.

Bobulinski’s comments to Carlson were completely ignored by CNN and MSNBC through noon ET, roughly 16 hours after the start of the damning interview.

The New York Times and Washington Post didn’t cover the allegations in Wednesday’s paper, either.

Again, if you're waiting to hear what Old Mask Guy would say about, oh, urban unrest or health care, you've come to the wrong story.

 The fun comes to an end, after a fashion, with the Wednesday night lead story:

EXCLUSIVE: Jim Biden, the brother of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, refused to answer questions Wednesday when approached by Fox News outside a house in Maryland about claims the former vice president had knowledge about the family’s overseas business ventures.

Approached at a residence on the Eastern Shore, Jim Biden repeatedly rebuffed questions in his driveway as Fox News asked questions from a distance in the street.

“I don’t want to comment about anything,” Jim Biden said.

Asked if he cared to answer questions, Biden said: “Nope.”

Two sources confirmed the person was Jim Biden, including a neighbor who viewed a picture of the footage. The Eastern Shore house is linked to Jim Biden in public records.

Plumb makes you want to climb the fire escape, crawl through the widow's window and steal some photos off the nightstand, doesn't it?

Fox is only tenuously a news outlet on its best days.** It gets by because of a familiar programming flaw in journalism. The first step in the selection-and-salience framing process is problem definition:*** when you can specify the good guys, the bad guys and the core issue at hand, the actors move to your narrative. Your rival networks might think the candidate is answering a question that came up at a debate, but that's not your story -- the performance of the craven lapdog media is what your audience came for, and ain't that a big enough majority in any town?

* Have a drink on us if you used the ATEX save-get function regularly. Yes, same reporter as the first Monday story.

** Obligatory nod here to Fox's staff reporting of its own public opinion polling. Fox lies like a rug about other people's polls, but it's scrupulously calm and straightforward with its own, and it never says "outside the margin of error" unless a difference is at least twice the margin of error.

*** This is sort of the basic Robert Entman (1991, 1993) definition. If you want to start a framing fight, let's wait until after the election. I have grading to do.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Darn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

Thought you might like a record of the Fair 'n' Balanced Network in full campaign mode (Thursday afternoon) as the last debate of 2020 approaches. You can:

See the text messages!

Learn about the guest list!

Watch Fox exhaust its Rolodex for a "pressure builds"!

Gasp at the audacity of the Maoists at NPR!

Grit your teeth in rage at the vicious questioning that reduced the Leader of the Free World to a quivering snowflake!

And, of course, enjoy the debate.




Saturday, September 05, 2020

The evolution of a Fox story


So, on the off chance you were wondering how the Atlantic's story about the president's attitudes toward the military looked in the Trump-worshiping press, here's a quick waltz through Friday's coverage at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network.

The lead story starting around noon (above), of course, was a knockdown: of course he didn't skip a ceremony honoring the war dead because he was afraid he'd get his hair wet. Even this version includes an unusual caution:

The sources only rejected the claim about Aisne-Marne, and not other accounts where Trump is alleged to have insulted soldiers. 

Because Fox is more or less fully into campaign mode (hey, it's September), the morning had been dominated by Biden stories: one that had been the previous evening's lead (at upper right, the No. 3 position in Fox's standard five-story layout) and a newly fabricated one in the No. 4 spot:

You'll note, of course, that there's nothing in the first text to support the "draws gasps" in the hed; unlike the "Fox sources" at top, we can't say it didn't happen, but you'd like to think Fox wouldn't miss a chance to quote a few gasps from Real People. "Riding the Dragon" is cribbed from another Murdoch outlet, which "exclusively previewed" a documentary posted to The Blaze and narrated by the fellow who brought you "Clinton Cash." (Fox has to be kicking itself for burning that one on a day on which it was destined to get lost.)

By midafternoon (around 3:30), "Never heard it" has fallen downpage and there's another new Biden story, also arising from his visit to Wisconsin. This one required the talents of three Fox reporters, though none of them seem to have been interested in anything else from the meeting in question:

Around 5 p.m., a Fox reporter tweeted that "two former sr Trump admin officials" had confirmed the Atlantic's report on several key points.  Fox updated its story to add the reporter to the byline (though not, ahem, to correct the spelling of "Bellau Wood") and to include a new second paragraph, among other details:

Still, the details from that trip and other events described in the explosive piece remain a subject of dispute.

Here's the top of the homepage from 6:22 p.m.; "Conflicting reports" is now the No. 2 story, with some random press-bashing in the lead position (the Fox "politics editor" mentioned in the inside deck hed has apparently never watched a Trump press conference, but no matter):

Cooler heads soon prevailed, and the headline was improved by about 7 p.m., as the story moved back to the lead position:

And by 9:40, the story had simply fallen off the map -- still findable, but nowhere among the top 5 stories or the parade of also-rans beneath. (Interestingly, the Fox sources supporting the Atlantic story return in the 12th story on that longer list, with the heretical reporter among four contributors, so apparently there hasn't yet been a wholesale purge.)

Hard to imagine how it must have sounded when this moment of professional integrity burst into an otherwise peaceful Friday at Fox, which seems increasingly desperate to regain the affections of a president who scorns its every effort. You might draw conclusions from the most recent Fox News Poll, which has yet to receive the prominence on the homepage that a much perkier finding by Rasmussen had around 9:40 p.m. Friday (with "PR wing for Biden" again the lead story):

Fox is consistently accurate, competent and un-flashy in reporting on its own polling, which may have been the problem:

Democrat Joe Biden is ahead in three key states that President Donald Trump won in 2016, according to new Fox News statewide surveys of Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. 

Can't wait to see what Fox comes up with tomorrow to please its masters!

Monday, August 31, 2020

Where's Fox News when you need it?


So, where's Fox News on this all-important new survey from Military Times -- you know, that reliable source of lead stories (like the one at right, from 2008) for the home stretch of the campaign?

Well, let's have a look:

The latest Military Times poll shows a continued decline in active-duty service members’ views of President Donald Trump and a slight but significant preference for former Vice President Joe Biden in the upcoming November election among troops surveyed.


The results, collected before the political conventions earlier this month, appear to undercut claims from the president that his support among military members is strong thanks to big defense budget increases in recent years and promised moves to draw down troops from overseas conflict zones.

That's a fair interpretation of the results (and appropriately frank in acknowledging a limitation -- when it was in the field -- in the second graf), so you can see why this poll is not likely to reach the top of the Fox homepage. I mean, when the very survival of the republic is at stake ...

Despite a couple of mistakes here and there, Military Times has done a pretty good piece of reporting here.  The "margin of error" appears to be miscalculated for a 95% confidence level (for a random sample of 1,018, it'd be 3.1 points, not "up to 2 percent"), so it's misleading to call the preference for Biden "significant" -- it would be significant at around 90% confidence, which is good enough to take to the track though short of the traditional confidence level used in the social sciences. The sample of "active-duty service members" was "
culled and verified from Military Times subscriber lists and databases" -- meaning (as the story acknowledges) that it's a representation of "career-oriented military members' views," not necessarily of the military as a whole. Accuracy about detail isn't why the story is anathema to Fox, but it does suggest why the results are especially relevant and what they're relevant about. The results are very much worth a look. And feel free to laugh at Fox while you're there.