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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Here's Fox, making up a story

The Fair 'n' Balanced Network is usually rather good at covering its tracks, fibwise, but for some reason it gets careless when Massster is in the spotlight. Here's a fresh example from Monday:

President Trump was asked why Dr. Anthony Fauci, who works for his administration, has a high approval rating on the handling of coronavirus but Trump himself does not. “It can only be my personality,” the president said.

“I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci,” Trump said at a White House coronavirus briefing Tuesday. “I agree with a lot of what he’s said.”

Trump said that “for the most part” his administration has done what Fauci has recommended.

"He's got this high approval rating—so why don't I have a high approval rating, and the administration, with respect to the virus?" Trump continued. He touted the administration’s work on testing, PPE supplies and producing ventilators.

"Nobody likes me. It can only be my personality. That's all,” the president said.

Everything after the first sentence is true -- not very accurately assembled (there's some unmarked snippage that makes Trump sound fractionally more coherent than he is), but true. Here, though, according to the White House, is what Trump "was asked":

Q: On that note, Mr. President, last night, in tweets that were deleted by Twitter, you said that Dr. Fauci misled the country about hydroxychloroquine.  How so?

THE PRESIDENT: No, not at all.  I think — I don’t even know what his stance is on it.  I — I was just — you know, he was at the — he was at the task force meeting a little while ago.

I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci. ...

In other words, the lede is bogus. It's not a case of the press sharing Trump's obsession with approval ratings, which would be a little snippy if true. ("Mr. President, lots of Faber coeds say Dr. Fauci is the only Delta they'd go out with.") It's a question about why Trump shared, and then deleted, derogatory claims about Fauci. Which might be a small thing in the context of the rest of Trump's performance, but still -- it's the lede, you guys.

As a rule, you should avoid lying about things people can check. Fox may be slipping a bit as the election draws near.

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Friday, July 17, 2020

The letter and the spirit

A reminder from the local fishwrap last week that it doesn't do a lot of good to follow the letter of the law if you ignore the spirit of the law.

Some background, in case you haven't been paying attention: The Gannett empire announced in mid-June that it would join other news outlets in capitalizing the "B":

Through a series of internal conversations that began with the USA TODAY diversity committee and ultimately cascaded across our network of local news organizations, we have reviewed our current stylebook and are making the following change:

Effective immediately, the USA TODAY Network — one of the nation’s largest print and digital media companies — will capitalize B when describing Black culture, ethnicity and communities of people.

My view, which is worth every penny of your subscription price: Good. This was overdue. Now provide the resources to enable smart, sensitive editing at the hubs that will put your style into practice, because otherwise you're just dressing up the cop blotter with a small orthographic change:

According to the City of Westland Police Department, two or three Black males began arguing inside a perfume store in the mall, which is located at 35000 Warren Road. 

Stylebooks and textbooks have long cautioned against randomly tossing race and ethnicity into news coverage. Here's the 1999 version of the Freep's own stylebook, for example, under "race":

Identify a person or situation by race, ethnic origins, religion, etc., only if that information is relevant and essential.

And under "crime":

When writing about suspects, physical descriptions are useful only if they give enough information for a reader to identify the person. Race, ethnic origin, religion, etc., are relevant in detailed descriptions -- ones that fit very few people. The following is NOT a detailed description: a man about 6 feet 1, in his mid-30s, Hispanic, wearing light-colored clothing. 

The AP (2019 version) is blunter about the underlying reasons:

Consider carefully when deciding whether to identify people by race. Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone's race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry.

This is your occasional reminder that proofreading is not the same thing as editing. The change in style didn't just fall out of the sky. It arose from a series of sharp reminders that news language ought to be taken seriously. (As we like to remind students in editing classes: No, I don't know what you meant, but I have a really good idea of what you said.) The new rule is about what to do when ethnicity is relevant -- not a lowering of the bar for relevance. If anything, it's implicitly a call to think more closely about what "relevant" and "essential" look like and at who should make those decisions.

Again, I'm not blaming the overworked hub editor who had neither the time nor the social capital to throw a flag on this one. It'd be nice, though, if the system was built in a way that rewarded the editor who pointed out that "two Black dudes arguing at the mall" is exactly what the spirit of the stylebook is meant to stop.

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Monday, July 06, 2020

The shield and sword of the Party

The sheer ingratitude of some people. Here's the poor Fair 'n' Balanced Network, working its head off on behalf of the Trump campaign, and all it hears from the top of the food chain is this kind of stuff:

You get the idea that the mean people at the White House simply aren't paying attention, so perhaps we can help a bit. Here's the No. 2 story from the Monday homepage (image at top):

Joe Biden tweeted Sunday night that if he gets elected, his administration “won’t just rebuild this nation — we’ll transform it,” raising speculation online about what exactly in the country will be transformed.

See? Active voice and everything!

The tweet comes after a politically charged Fourth of July weekend, as the country works to manage a new surge in COVID-19 cases and tries to emerge from weeks of tense protests that have resulted in a widening divide between Democrats and Republicans.

Biden’s tweet did not specify what exactly he means by transforming the country. His critics from the left have expressed concern that he served in the upper echelon of government for over 40 years and didn't help solve these major issues in the past. His critics from the right insist that a Biden White House will take marching orders from the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party. Some conservatives say his vice president pick will be an early indicator of his administration's direction.

Gotta love the style touch on "the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party." But at this point, you should have figured out why this is a top campaign story. One of the scariest monsters under the Fox News bed is the scary Kenyan dude's "promise" to "fundamentally transform" the country, so anything that calls that to mind is a win from the outset. (Somehow Ronald Reagan's similar claim from 1989 always goes unmentioned: "We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.") Still, of course, any claim about transformation needs context and sourcing:

... Scott Morefield, a media and politics reporter for the Daily Caller, responded to Biden’s post and said the transformation Biden was referring to would be the country's turn “into a socialist hellscape."

Read more »

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Monday, June 29, 2020

'What many are referring to'

It's certainly been fun the past few days, watching the Fair 'n' Balanced Network tie itself into knots trying to keep up with the official line on the newest "Russia hoax." And Monday morning's No. 2 story is a fine illustration of how the routines of news work to make the Fox perspective look perfectly normal.

There's a tweet from a top newsmaker to cycle the story ahead, so the central assertion never has to rise to the top (as on Sunday, with "Top conservatives demand answers" and "Trump pushes back"). We have denials from the Russians and the Taliban before we get to domestic statements: first an expert, then the rival candidate (though he gets a separate column reflecting the Trump campaign's main election narrative), then the official White House comment, to put all the back-and-forth into context.

The most charming sign of Fox's attention to detail, though, is the hedge in the paragraph addressing the scope of the situation:

The Times’ report sent a shockwave through the Capitol on Friday where politicians have been focused on the recent unrest after George Floyd’s death in police custody and what many are referring to a resurgent coronavirus outbreak.

(Here's a screen capture in case it goes away:)

And just like that, the magic of attribution -- which we all love, right? -- turns a piece of data into just another assertion.


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