Sunday, February 25, 2007

Speak of the devil ...

... and he (or she) will surely hog the armrest all the way to St. Louis. Another topic that came up at dinner last week was that remarkable phenomenon by which telling students never to commit some journalistic sin or another immediately causes that sin to appear in the professional press. Naturally, the local paper was rife with examples the next morning:

The high school newspaper laundry list lede:
Sushi made-to-order. Organic fruits and vegetables. French fries made without artery-clogging trans fats.

Most People Don't:
Many people might not associate the $11.1 billion, mass-produced college dining industry with the “slow food movement.” (Dear copyeds: Would you work on this writer's basic punctuation skills a little, please?)

The Stupid Name Pun sports hed:
On Kooz control

And this, which is actually kind of disturbing -- in part because it's labeled "New York Times," giving it that all-important air of authority:
Bush has also ordered a second aircraft carrier group within striking distance of Iran, an unsubtle reminder that if diplomacy fails, he could order a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

The problem is in the subordinate clause after "that," which puts a condition on the main clause: If it rains, we might get wet (but we won't if it doesn't rain). Trouble is, that might not be the case. The Times is telling its readers that some sort of diplomatic process is a reliable index of the Bush administration's signaling behavior when it comes to whacking unsavory regimes in the Near East. One doubts that many of those regimes (or their neighbors, enemies or trading partners) would agree.

It'd violate a number of journalistic norms (many of them useful) to write something like "an unsubtle reminder that the guy with the aircraft carriers can do pretty much whatever the hell he wants." But it would be a more accurate summary of the workings of the interstate system under anarchy.

The rules of the game call for the Times to find an "expert" to say that. It could have tried a little harder.


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