Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cluelessness, macro- and micro-

One of the joys of copydesk life is the occasional need to shift from the little picture to the Great Big Picture and back again on short (to zero) notice. Here's a nice example from The State (which insists on capitalizing The Definite Article even though it looks like The Pits):

Television and radio talk show host Sean Hannity told state Republicans they will play a central role in choosing the next president and revitalizing the party to regain control of Congress in the next election.

Big picture: What's a story about Sean Hannity doing on the front page of a grownup newspaper?

Speaking to hundreds in Columbia at the state GOP’s annual Silver Elephant Dinner, Hannity said the country faces a crucial choice about its future, especially regarding how the United States deals with international terrorism.

Small picture: "The country faces a crucial choice regarding how the United States deals with international terrorism"? Big picture: I don't care if he's the keynote whateveritis. He's a mediocre TV personality with no independent thoughts worth wasting on a news page.

Look. If it was Voldemort or the Lord of the Nazgûl or the Prince of Darkness himself addressing the Republicans, that'd be one thing. But Hannity doesn't count. He's like the equipment manager for the satanic junior varsity. He's the pledge representative to the Delta Phi Nazgûl social committee (which means he gets to drive to the Food King!). Go ahead and front the dinner; just see if you can lede with somebody who doesn't actively subtract from the sum of human knowledge just by being in the room.

Small picture: Hannity focused on the war in Iraq, noting it was a critical first battle in a global war on terror. There is too much to lose, Hannity said, if a Democrat wins the next presidential race.

Two points about this noble burst of objectivity. One, we generally restrict "note" as a verb of attribution to stuff that's verifiably true. That's because ... well, because that's what it means. To note is to take note of or draw attention to something. You can "say" a thousand angels are dancing on the head of a pin if you want, but if you're going to "note" it, you need to whip out the magnifying glass. The desk's job here is to stop the writer from buying into the source's opinions.

Two, whatever Hannity is smoking, did he bring enough to share with the rest of the class? The idea of a U.S. "war on terror" can be traced to at least the Reagan administration. But if it's now official GOP policy that the War on Terror (as it's known over at Hannity's employer) didn't begin until -- what, a year and a half after 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, then our reporter left dinner a little early, didn't he?

“These are transformative, consequential times. The enemy is waiting,” Hannity told the audience of more than 1,000.

Given that the crowd has gone from "hundreds" to "more than 1,000" in a mere three grafs, surely we could have found someone out there to help calibrate the meter. Is this the new party line? Everybody on board with this one? Or are Hannity and the reporter having a race to the bottom of the gene pool?

Really. Presidential politics has the potential to be serious business. Let's not get it mixed up with blowhards from cable TV. Covering Sean Hannity as news -- I mean, that'd be like covering Ann Coulter as a serious commentator, and nobody would dream of that. Right?


Blogger Strayhorn said...

Geebus. Your first question hits the wood-fastening device on the driving surface. Why does anyone listen to these blow-hards for anything except amusement and/or entertainment?

Like polls, the pronouncements of pundits are only of marginal interest and they definitely ain't News. Both are a subset of commercial speech that belongs in the back of the book along with the ads and the rest of the paid-for content.

8:09 AM, May 16, 2007  
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2:49 AM, May 18, 2007  

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