Friday, September 28, 2007

Fox Framing Friday!

OK, to be fair, this is more an agenda-setting discussion than strictly a framing one, but this is my theory seminar, so we'll do it my way.

Agenda-setting, if you haven't heard the cliche yet, is the process by which news reports tell you what to think about while keeping hands off from telling you what to think. (Lots of pine trees have been slain in the effort to show why that's a false distinction, but it's still a good starting point.) The news talks about crime or inflation or war or drugs, and "most important problem" surveys reflect the play and prominence those topics get. Our friends at Fox set a pretty distinctive agenda. In any particular week, you're going to get a heavy dose of War On Terror, missing women, random threats to Our Kids, ACLU-inspired signs of the apocalypse, and Muslims Behaving Badly -- none of them totally unknown to the mainstream U.S. media, of course, but it's the mix and the emphasis that make agenda-setting the enduring theoretical paradigm that it is.

What's John Edwards doing in the No. 2 spot in the example above? Well, another standard item on the Fox agenda is Democrats Behaving Hypocritically. (How else to explain the appearance of Eatery Owner Forced to Remove Picture of Chelsea Clinton From Window as a story of national significance?) Here's the tale in its entirety:

Edwards Predicts Doom for African-American Males

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said if he isn’t elected president, the population of African-American males is likely to either wind up in prison or dead.

At an MTV/ forum Thursday, Edwards responded to a question about inner-city kids partaking in violence by saying there was no “silver bullet” to fight the problem.

“We start with the president of the United States saying to America, ‘we cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem. And the idea that we can keep incarcerating and keep incarcerating — pretty soon we’re not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They’re all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two.”

Well. One never knows where the lede was fabricated (probably offshore; you never can tell what's going to happen when Fox is making things up). At least the article is a full three paragraphs. There's no context to help you understand them, but Fox's presumption is that you don't need to understand much more than "Edwards is an unbalanced lefty psycho (who gets expensive haircuts)." And here's the original place you landed with a click from that frontpage story:

Asked about what he could do about "inner-city kids partaking in violence" at the MTV/MySpace Forum yesterday, Democratic candidate John Edwards offered an apocalyptic prediction for young black males:

“We cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem. And the idea that we can keep incarcerating and keep incarcerating — pretty soon we’re not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They’re all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two.”

Hyperbole much? (Grammar-wise, you think Bill Buckley is turning over in that box of earth from his home country yet? I mean, is "hyperbole" now a verb at the National Review?) Despite popular misperception and those who find it a convenient talking point to illustrate inescapable racism, there are more young African-American men in college than in prison. In 2005, according to the Census Bureau, there were 864,000 black men in college. According to Justice Department statistics, there were 802,000 in federal and state prisons and jails; between the ages of 18 and 24, however, black men in college outnumber those incarcerated by 4 to 1.

Well, the stats appear to be correct -- at least, they were taken straight from a Washington Post article. But Fox is doing something unusual: referring straight to a commentary piece (a particularly stupid one, at that) from what's supposed to be a news position. So let's look for a second at some of the stuff Fox is buying into when it agenda-sets.

If the next question on the midterm was "Name two informal fallacies employed in the Sturmer National Review piece quoted above," you might say "straw-man argument" and "irrelevant argument." Or, more or less, "Edwards seems like the kind of guy who might say 'there are more black men in prison than in college'" and "Hey! There are four times as many black men in college as in prison!" The straw-man part is pretty self-evident. For the relevance part, well -- let's have a little test. For Saturday's class, answer these questions, relying on data from the Justice Department and Census Web sites:

1) What's the ratio of white men age 20-24 in college to black men age 20-24 in college?
2) What's the ratio of white men age 20-24 in prison (state or federal) to black men age 20-24 in prison (state or federal)?
3) What's the ratio of white men age 20-24 in college to white men age 20-24 in prison?

Post answers here. The 2005 data might be easiest to find. For extra credit, ponder why anybody would believe anything at Fox News. Then bear in mind that they have as many votes as you do.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

No taste! Less filling!

Late-breaking entry in the Tin Ear competition (Wrong Place Wrong Time division)! Step forward, the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

There's a time and a place for everything, kiddies, and heds on articles about allegations of serious crimes -- the woman in the deck is accused of "criminal vehicular operation resulting in substantial bodily harm," the article says, along with child endangerment (the couple's 9-year-old was apparently in the front seat) -- are not the place to play ha-ha.

One can only hope that the PiPress sends a bulldog front to the Newseum site and that somebody had the good sense to step in and demand a tonedown on this one. But one never knows anymore, does one?


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why journalisms are clueless

A brief illustration, from a usually pretty good paper, of how professional routines and Business As Usual can gang up to make us look like we really don't get it:

An Extra 'S' on the Report Card
Hailing a Singular Achievement, President Gets Pluralistic
As a candidate, George W. Bush once asked, "Is our children learning?"

Now he has an answer.

"Childrens do learn," he said Wednesday.

The setting was, yes, an education event where the president was taking credit for rising test scores. ...
For Bush, it was a classic malapropism, the sort of verbal miscue that occasionally bedevils him in public speaking and provides critics and the media easy fodder for ridicule.

Subject-verb agreement actually is taught at Andover, Yale and Harvard, the president's alma maters, but in an unforgiving job that requires him to speak hundreds of thousands of words with cameras rolling, the tongue sometimes veers off in mysterious ways -- and someone always seems to notice.

His latest misstatement masked a serious issue, of course.

Isn't that cute? A reporter who's actually heard of subject-verb agreement? And who manages to actually acknowledge that, actually, it's hard to talk a lot ("hundreds of thousands" -- have you, like, been counting?) without stumbling occasionally? It's some consolation, at least, that we didn't see the need to bring consonant cluster reduction into the discussion.

Under the same reporter's byline, same day, we can find this about Sudan and Darfur:

"Maybe some don't think it's genocide," Bush said of the killing there as he pressed for a peacekeeping force. "But if you've been raped, your human rights have been violated, if you're mercilessly killed by roaming bands, you know it's genocide. And the fundamental question is: Are we, the free world, willing to do more?"

Gee. Wouldn't it be neat if the reporter stopped being snarky about Bush's alleged grammar and pointed out that none of those three things are either necessary or sufficient conditions for the crime of genocide? (Though if you want to roll on the floor a bit about "if you've been mercilessly killed by roaming bands, you know it's genocide," go right ahead.) That repellent offenses don't become "genocide" by a wave of the U.S. executive wand? That the chief executive is, you know, sort of lying in public again? And that when chief executives lie in public, there's quite possibly some underlying geopolitical motive that's worth some journalistic attention?

It'd be inappropriate for a reporter to mention the dastardly French, who sometimes respond to the threat of gross human-rights violations in the developing world by sending in the paras. That might entail asking why we don't have some paras available for situations as dire as Sudan. Which might lead to all sorts of discussions that are potentially far more interesting to the U.N. and other fanciers of international relations than whether Daniel Ortega -- OK, now we're feeling really, really old -- actually laid a "fist-pumping condemnation" on the assembled worthies or not.

Enough of that. I'm going to bed. Please try to have this fixed by morning, all right?

Today's tough question

I don't know how to classify this one. It isn't really a case of multiple negation, nor yet a cousin of the McCartney preposition, but it's too cool not to share. From the radio:

Are you losing the battle against weight loss?

I really don't know how to answer that. "No, me and weight loss are kind of in one of those Western Front trench stalemate things, but I have this cat who's just kicking its butt"?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Out of the mouths of babes

So much to say about the Two-Minute Hatefest (led by the Murdoch products, with eager help from the other tabloids and more of the grownup press than you'd like to think), so little time. Meanwhile, enjoy this gem from the top of the Fox front page and ask yourself which is supposed to represent "unreality": Bush and his claim or Ahmadinejad and his?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tin Ear award of the week

Today's lesson: If something looks or sounds like nonsense, back up a second and see if the fault is on your end. This one appears to have slipped by in the urge to get in the latest and newest on Those Missing Boy Scouts:

"We think it's most likely that they realized it was late and they bedded down for the night," said Charity Sharp, of the Cruso Volunteer Fire Department in southern Haywood County. "They were prepared. They knew what they were hacking into. The scout leader is familiar with the area and knew what kind of terrain they were hacking."

Bet she didn't. This particular conversation isn't up on CNN or Fox (both of which would do well to explain, by the way, how a slight delay in the return of some folks whose motto is Be Prepared became a national story so fast). But as a near-30-year resident of the fair state in question, HEADSUP-L is inclined to suggest that Ms. Sharp said "hiking." H-I-K-I-N-G. Given that they were going on a hike, not trying to steal the Pentagon's launch codes, I mean.

What can the copy editor do? Head back to the originating desk and ask for a translator. If nobody's willing to call the source or the agency (and AP editors remember this paper as one that would question anything that moved if it sounded fishy), demand a paraphrase. You lose no -- absolutely no -- meaning if you go with:

The Scout leader knows the area and the terrain, said Charity Sharp of the Cruso Volunteer Fire Department in southern Haywood County. "We think it's most likely that they realized it was late and they bedded down for the night," Sharp said. "They were prepared."

Everybody has a story like this. We hear what we hear. We've discussed the "new Solomon of the Middle East" earlier. Several regular readers will remember the case of the hospital's human race horses (one or two might recall the "non-passenger van," which is pretty close to the pronunciation attributed to Ms. Sharp). The point for editors is to be suspicious. If you're going to be the Foremost Newspaper of your state, you need to know how its people talk.

[UPDATE: Here's how the quote appears at the N&O Web site: "They were prepared," Sharp said. "The scout leader is familiar with the area." Good way of capturing the sense, but shouldn't you mark a deletion from a direct quote with an ellipsis?]

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

A program of light entertainment followed

"Bad bad bad headline," writes a reader:

State Trooper Praised at Amish Shooting

Yep. Though it's nice to see that sort of event making time to honor our public servants, isn't it?

Complaint sustained, and hed is sent to bed without supper. Hed writer, on the other hand, now has reservations on unheated train to Siberia.


Friday, September 21, 2007

I'm on ur doorstep ...

... makin bubbly noizes:

Private language

More bad news for hed writers: You aren't the Red Queen. You don't get to unilaterally decide on new meanings for words and expect your poor reading public to understand what you're talking about. Today's case in point, from the metro front of one of the leading local dailies:

gala gets
top GOP

The hed is trying to reflect the second graf's "All of the major GOP candidates" (putting news into the lede simply isn't done anymore, one gathers), and it does so by shortening "candidates" to "runners." Unfortunate, because that isn't any of the scores of things that "runner" means. A candidate in front can be a "front-runner," and a candidate finishing out of the money can be an "also-ran," but a candidate isn't a "runner." The hed writer is indulging in some sort of private Secret Language and hoping readers will catch on. Given the number of meanings of "runner" available to readers, that doesn't seem a very good bet.

Now. HEADSUP-L is specifically not at home to bizarre arguments on the order of "Don't tell me 'pled' is now becoming an actual word (and turn that music down right now before you destroy the language of Shakespeare)." Of course "pled" is a word. It's a legitimate past tense of "plead," and if Shakespeare didn't use it, Spenser did. It's not the preferred form in U.S. news language, but proclaiming that it isn't a word is the sort of argument that makes copyeds look both tin-eared and technically inept. "Runner" is a word too. It just isn't a word that means "candidate."

Solution? Heh heh. There's plenty of room on that line for "hopefuls." You don't have to like it, but "candidate for a position" is a well-established meaning for "hopeful" in the language of Shakespeare's island descendents. And, as with "runner," you can look it up.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Deadbeat dad

Haven't seen your old man for the last few weeks? Odds are he's been running around the country in a frantic search of lost-and-found bins at football stadia:

Granted, this is not your father's Big Ten.
Palm Beach Post, 9/16

But seriously, this is not your father's Giants defense.
N.Y. Daily News, 9/14

This is not your father's college football.
Lincoln Journal Star, 9/9

Not your father's Sooners
Miami Herald, 9/7

This is not your father's Nittany Lions.*
Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 9/3

Of course, he could be checking out the opera:
This is not your father's “La Boheme.”
Washington Times, 9/17

... or the high-end luthiers:
And these are not your father's basses.
San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 9/9

... or the nonrevenue sports:
This is not your father's Amherst volleyball team.
Springfield Republican, 9/12

.... or the Grand Old Party:
Regrettably, this is not your father's Republican Party anymore.
Flint Journal, 9/14

He's not your father's front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
St. Pete Times, 9/8

... or a trailer park in Florida:
This is not your father's pre-fab.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/5

... or, along with the New York Times, the new restaurants:
Not your father's Millburn, that's for sure.
NYT, 8/26

Orwell's famous "Politics and the English Language" has done a lot of damage to writing in general, and news writing in particular, through the years, but you have to admit his first rule has kind of a ring to it: Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. That goes for all of you.

* They isn't?

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

You talkin' to me?

If I were pope of journalism, the first thing I'd do (after instituting a holiday for St. Subjunctive) would be to remind believers worldwide that news is written in the third person. Forever and ever amen. Not in the first person, even if you bring your own tapeworm, and not in the second person, which is today's topic.

Several pitfalls await the sinner who addresses the reader in such a wise. One is the grammar thing. The understood imperative can't change persons just because you close your eyes and wish really hard, as in this example:

The understood subject in both cases is "you": If you're wearing Crocs, you should watch kids' toes. Bad idea for a couple of reasons. One, in many states, the cops take a dim view of underage toe-watching. Two, your Crocs aren't the point of the story. What the hed wants to say is that if your progeny are wearing Crocs, you need to look out for their toes. Send hed back for rewrite. You can torture grammar all you want to, but you can't make it confess to this sort of thing.

The other pitfall arises from deliberately offending your readers by assuming certain kinds of group membership:

So you think that fancy navigational system in your SUV is smart?

Consider the mighty osprey.

Nope. Don't have SUV. Don't have fancy navigational system. Not prone to thinking wires and lights are particularly smart on their own. (Do have visions of osprey rolling out toward unsuspecting writer's liver and lights, if that helps.)

Please. Third person only. If you're talkin' to me, stop.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Quick, what's the difference between bad pop-science articles in your daily blatt and bad pop-science articles in the New York Times? Answer: bad NYT pop science, like other forms of bad NYT journalism, gets past the gatekeepers a lot more easily because of the brand. When the Times says something, it's like -- well, it's like having a Harvard-trained linguist making up your data for you: We lesser mortals just sort of sit back and admit that, y'know, they laughed at Newton and all that sort of thing.

Which is the only possible explanation for the utter lack of editorial oversight that the reader is obliged to infer from this week's "Freakonomics" column:

The Jane Fonda Effect
Is a 1979 thriller to blame for America's overreliance on fossil fuels?

"Freakonomics" is the sort of hip-n-edgy trend that moves up the must-read list fast enough to make its owner-operators rather a rich lot. Unfortunately, to judge from this case, it's also happy to rely on smoke and mirrors, apparently on grounds that baseless assertions in the Times are safe from questioning because -- there you have it. It's in the Times, so it has to be true. Much more of this and "Freakonomics" is going to be consigned to the Safire Heap of History, as in: If you call Safire a column about language and this a column about quantitative social science, why not just add an astrology column to Science Times and have done with it?

Right. At this point, it's traditional to trot out the arguments-n-evidence that support the hed. Thing is, there aren't any. None. We have a lede:

If you were asked to name the biggest global-warming villains of the past 30 years, here’s one name that probably wouldn’t spring to mind: Jane Fonda. But should it?

and five grafs of unexceptional summary of "The China Syndrome" and its milieu. Leading up to:

Although some radiation was released, there was no meltdown through to the other side of the Earth — no “China syndrome” — nor, in fact, did the T.M.I. accident produce any deaths, injuries or significant damage except to the plant itself.

What it did produce, stoked by “The China Syndrome,” was a widespread panic. The nuclear industry, already foundering as a result of economic, regulatory and public pressures, halted plans for further expansion. And so, instead of becoming a nation with clean and cheap nuclear energy, as once seemed inevitable, the United States kept building power plants that burned coal and other fossil fuels. Today such plants account for 40 percent of the country’s energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions. Anyone hunting for a global-warming villain can’t help blaming those power plants — and can’t help wondering too about the unintended consequences of Jane Fonda.

Which all seems to suggest a testable hypothesis. Granted, it'd be tricky, trying to track down all the data ex post, or justify your survey's panel mortality rate, or whatever, but that's a nice, straightforward, theoretically driven Big Effects of Meedja study: Movie causes massive change in public opinion, public opinion spurs change in public policy, and the next thing you know the Atlantic is lapping at Cleveland.

But the research part -- seems like some seriously kinky multiple regression ought to underpin the Freakonomics enterprise, doesn't it? -- has nothing to do with any of that. Indeed, there isn't really a research part at all. There's a brief look at the distinction between risk and uncertainty. (Guys? That's not your "research." That's the "introduction to your lit review.") And there are some colorful descriptions of life at the nuclear plant (the sort of thing that happens when the journalist half of the team gets an MFA and ignores all those pesky methods courses). But nothing that has anything to do with testing the assertion that Jane Fonda is single-handedly killing off the polar bear.

Well, except this: Could it be that nuclear energy, risks and all, is now seen as preferable to the uncertainties of global warming?

France, which generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity by nuclear power, seems to think so. So do Belgium (56 percent), Sweden (47 percent) and more than a dozen other countries that generate at least one-fourth of their electricity by nuclear power.

Which is a nice way to fail your midterm on informal logical fallacies. France's current ratio of nuclear-generated electricity is related to changes in public opinion how again? Oh. You don't have to say because you're ... a rogue economist!

And that's it. Nothing that resembles research, and nothing that has anything to do with any if-you-were-Fox-we'd-call-'em-paranoid conjectures about Jane Fonda backing Pat Buchanan's Lincoln Navigator over a nesting pair of piping plovers.

Wait! Maybe, as the shirttail says, "more information on the research behind this column is online at at www." Let's see!

Well, sorta. We have some pictures of one of the authors visiting Three Mile Island. We have a PDF of something that looks exactly like the sort of thing power companies hand out to groups touring nuclear plants. We have a really nice piece of grownup research -- again, that's as opposed to promotional literature from power companies -- on educational outcomes of children in Sweden who were exposed in utero to Chernobyl radiation. None of which, it ought to go without saying by now, has the square root of your mama to do with Jane Fonda buying beachfront property in the Alps. And none of which is remotely related to "the research behind this column." Of which there isn't any.

Be warned, freakonomists. The road to Safiredom is short, slippery and warmed by the hellish breath of Jane Fonda. Do not tread that path. Do not seek the treasure!

Yahoos! at the gates

Demons are often summoned by the mention of their names, and style incubi that are mentioned in class will surely adorn the dead pine trees within a few days of their appearance:

To rephrase a point that Bill Walsh makes with characteristic effectiveness in The Elephants of Style ("Punctuation is not decoration," pp. 36-37), the obligation to mark a proper name is not an obligation to reproduce a trademark. This hed isn't reporting, it's cheerleading -- if not for the company itself, for its graciousness in sending an expert north to enlighten the hayseeds.

Yahoo is a company. Yahoo! is a severe case of misplaced terminal punctuation that should be restricted to the ad columns with an armed guard at the border. Don't get the two confused.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Keep your stereotypes to yourself

Here's a quick glance at how not to embrace diversity in your news coverage, and it's also by way of suggesting why coverage of terrorism in American newspapers so often tends to actively subtract from the sum of human knowledge. (The originating paper is the Post-Dispatch, but the article was also picked up in Charlotte, which conveniently managed to cut the why-we're-running-this clause.)

The point for editors at (ahem!) both papers is not just that stereotyping is offensive and stupid. It's that when you challenge a stereotype on grounds that it's offensive and stupid, you might also knock out some stuff that makes readers clueless in other ways as well -- primarily, in this case, how they understand the nature and uses of substate political violence. And you don't have to have much of an imagination to see how Citizen Reader's understanding of political violence is intimately bound up with how we in the media carry out our function as political communicators. There is, as you might have noticed, sort of an election (latest in a series! collect them all!) approaching.

Enough sermon? Let's have some text:

WASHINGTON --On June 10, 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft broke away from meetings in Moscow to make a stunning announcement: U.S. authorities had foiled a terrorist plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States.

Jose Padilla had been arrested in Illinois a month earlier as the central figure in the case. He did not fit the stereotype of a dangerous terrorist. He was an American-born Hispanic who had grown up Catholic.

Leaving aside the question of "whose stereotype of a dangerous terrorist?" for a moment, let's look at why the writer thinks you should think Padilla doesn't fit it:
1) He's American-born. Like, say, Timmy McVeigh.
2) He's Hispanic. Well, bit of a range of causes and personae to choose from here, but let's just pick Luis Posada C.
3) He grew up Catholic. Hmm. Anyone in this roster (I was searching for the attack on the Tory conference in Brighton, but a much more comprehensive list was the first thing to hand) fit such a description?

The point, of course, is not that substate political violence -- let's go ahead and call it "terrorism" for short -- is an exclusive property of Americans, Hispanics or Catholics. Or that we could go on for another dozen grafs listing various nationalities, ethnicities and religions to pad out the writer's rather exclusive list. It is that terrorism is not a function of the nationality, ethnicity or religion of the people who do it. It's something people do because it seems to offer an effective way of reaching their goals. (If you're having trouble filling in your bingo card, by the way, here's a rather eloquent look at the role of violence in politics: Nelson Mandela's "statement from the dock" at the Rivonia trial. If you don't know why that's interesting, just go read the sports or the comics or something for a while.)

Only a limited number of genuine bottom-feeders believe that the purpose of understanding political violence is coddling terrorists. It isn't. The point is that knowing how stuff starts is often a prerequisite for knowing how to make it stop. People who -- as appears to be the case with our writer -- think that terrorism was invented by Muslims sometime in the late afternoon of Sept. 10, 2001, are no help in that effort. To put it mildly.

Lesson for editors? Same as it was in J4400. Call in the bomb squad on any paragraph suggesting that the story subject doesn't fit a stereotype or is Not Your Typical (single mom, college undergraduate, international terrorist, whatever). At the least, it makes the writer look narrow-minded -- uninterested in, or unable to recognize, the multitude of differences in the single-mom, undergraduate and terrorist populations. In cases like the one at hand, it also boots a critical chance to help people understand the stuff that, as voters, they're empowered and expected to pass judgment on. Let's try not to leave the good citizens dumber than they were when they put their quarter in the slot and bought the product, shall we?

Friday, September 14, 2007

And the thigh bone's ...

This just in from Cousin Strayhorn, chief of the Triangle Buro and a former Motown resident hisownself.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cooking the heds with Fox

Know what's fun about Fox? You never know whether any particular blunder or violation of basic journalism standards is down to Fox's ideology or just its old-fashioned ineptitude. Here are today's examples: That's the tease; the story itself appears under the hed "FOX News Poll: Bush Approval Up; Nearly Half of Americans Think Surge Helped in Iraq." As it reports:

The poll finds that nearly half of Americans agree with Petraeus that some progress is being made under the surge: 49 percent think the increase in troops has led to improvements in Iraq (17 percent "major" improvements and 32 percent "minor"), while 45 percent say the surge has not made much of a difference.

Giving rise to two points:

1) Never infer answers to questions you haven't asked. "Has the surge led to improvements in Iraq" doesn't and can't produce an answer to "Did the surge work?"

2) Don't, um, lie about the percentages. The sum of those agreeing on major or minor improvements is 49 percent, plausibly summarized in the inside hed as "nearly half." Calculating the confidence interval for both those responses at a 95% confidence level, a result accurately reflecting the population could lie anywhere between about 43.5% (adding the lower end of the range for "minor" and "major") and 54.5% (adding the upper ends). If you can get "most" to think "surge worked" out of that, a career in high-stakes gambling is not for you.

The next case, though, is just a nice basic lesson in how to fail your first hed-writing assignment (and I hope we're listening out there in radioland):

Remember all those droning lessons from your undergraduate days? That a killing isn't a "murder" until there's a murder conviction. This is such. As the story notes, the perp was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Her husband was killed gruesomely, violently and deliberately, but he wasn't "murdered." "Killing" or "slaying" would have worked fine; "death" would be correct but misleading. But we can't say his "murder" was a tragic event because there was no murder.

Inept or biased? Fox reports, you decide!

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Coincidental juxtaposition funnies

Think somebody at Poynter might want to tell "Al" his agenda items are, um, well, slightly, kinda, mildly inappropriate when placed next to each other?

The "fake interviews" thing, on the other hand, is scary. Have a look at Romenesko's roundup. Film at 11.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Oh, the suspense

The perils of carelessly written bullet items:

Among the senators grilling Petraeus and Crocker were five presidential hopefuls, one of whom could inherit the war. Analysis, 4A.

Come on. Aren't you going to tell us which one?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The dark continent

This includes the week's reading assignment, so pay attention. There will be a test.

Last month we asked the editor of one of our favorite papers (to its credit, one that still manages to fit a pretty good bit of news amid the Britney Spears coverage) why his folks kept shirttailing Qaida news onto Iraq articles as if the topics were somehow related. He thought we were reading a bit much into the packaging: "Anyone who reads the Observer regularly knows well that Iraq has not been linked to the events of Sept. 11, 2001."

Leaving aside all the interesting truth conditions packed into that, let's look at today's editorial:

What next for Iraq?
U.S. needs new war plan not based on wishful thinking
Six years ago today, the civilized world watched in horror as the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon burned. This message was seared on the world's consciousness: We have enemies who are so obsessed with killing Americans that they'll sacrifice their own lives to do so. Earlier they targeted Americans overseas; now they can strike us at home. Sept. 11, 2001, was a chilling reminder of the vulnerability of the world's greatest power.

In the ensuing years, the nations threatened by al-Qaida's murderous network have made the world a dangerous place for terrorists. International vigilance and cooperation, coupled with military strikes, have disrupted the terrorists' communications, financing, training and planning. Yet the danger has not passed, as shown in the recent bombing plot uncovered in Germany.

The anniversary of that harrowing day comes as Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before Congress about Iraq, which has become both a recruiting poster and a training ground for terrorists.

If you read the paper regularly, then, you might "know well" that the two haven't been "linked" (which might or might not be true, and at any rate is drastically different from knowing they aren't related, which has sort of been clear all along but has no significant correlation with reading any particular paper that I know of). But if you just pick the paper up episodically (say, on Sept. 11, 2007), or if you happen to write the editorials that express the paper's opinion, it's pretty obvious that Iraq and Qaida are the same story.

I think, in a way, that suggests why coverage of this week's Iraq events looks so bizarre. And so to the assigned reading, James Carey's "How and why: The dark continent of American journalism" (in Manoff and Schudson's bodacious 1986 volume, Reading the news). One of Carey's overriding points is that in journalism, as in education, our "customers" tend to confuse a class with the whole curriculum. Good as we might be at showing what happened to whom, we're handicapped at explaining why it came to be that way:

Both journalism and education assume the constant student and the constant reader. American journalism assumes the figure who queues up every day for for his dose of news and beyond that the commentary, analysis and "evidence" that turn the news into knowledge. American education assumes the "constant scholar" who engages in lifelong learning; who, unsatisfied by the pieties and simplicities of Sociology 1, goes on to explore subjects in depth and detail and along the way acquires a mastery of theory and evidence. This is both wrong and self-serving. But, to rephrase Walter Lippmann, more journalists and scholars have been ruined by self-importance than by liquor.

If you pay a pretty good amount of attention, Carey is suggesting, you can run across a hed like this (thank you, The Plain Dealer)

and actually make sense of it! You might even be able to incorporate the second graf:

The two officials' air of sincerity and competence probably put to rest the notion, advanced by some liberal groups, that they would parrot the agenda of the Bush administration.

without having your head explode. But if you tend to run across news at random -- and face it, that's generally how the bulk of people encounter news -- you're at risk of being a bit rudderless. Especially if you check in at any of the zillions of papers who update their Web sites with unedited AP:

Gen. David Petraeus said a 2,000-member Marine unit would return home this month without replacement in the first sizable cut since a 2003 U.S-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein and unleashed sectarian violence.

Hard to say what's the most profound here: "First sizable cut," the disingenuously coordinated predicates in the subordinate clause, or the freakin' indefinite article: A 2003 U.S.-led invasion? Were there that many of the things running around?

So for this week, discuss Carey's "dark continent" metaphor in relation to the Iraq invasion, the "surge," and the hearings. Where did all the "why" go? How did this thing come to be accepted as the status quo, and is there something systemic we can do to journalism so it happens less often in the future?

Ministry of Truth

This just in from Commissar Murdoch's New York Post, in case you hadn't heard yet how you were supposed to think about Monday's events:
Here's the news story referred to from the front. Some excerpts:

Calm and unflinching, the four-star U.S. commander in Iraq impressed even hard-core war critics in Congress yesterday, announcing that some troops can begin coming home this month, 30,000 can return by next summer, and even more joyous reunions are on the horizon.
Gen. David Petraeus, delivering his long-awaited report with commanding skill, said there's been "substantial" progress in fighting al Qaeda and sectarian violence that justifies the first troop drawdown of the four-year war.

The low-key but firm Petraeus - in his Army green laden with medals for his star turn under sparkling chandeliers - used color-coded charts and graphs to show a skeptical joint House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees that the current troop surge met its objectives "in large measure."

Even Democrats who despise the war policy were deferential in the face of the top-notch general's even-keeled demeanor and impressive rows of shiny silver stars, four to a shoulder.

"He's one of the best," said Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, who ran proceedings in the ornate hearing room and ordered a succession of protesters ejected when they shouted their anger at the war.

... The no-nonsense military leader didn't specify how soon or how large the later reductions would be. But he presented a chart that visualized only five brigades remaining - about one fourth of the current force - and most of the troops in a "partnering" role with Iraqi security.

The general said he had briefed higher-ups in the chain of command but wrote his report himself. "It has not been cleared by, nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or Congress," he said of his testimony.

Even on an editorial page, this would be suspect; as a rule, we ought to stop being impressed by the shininess of any particular row of stars by age 11 or so. On a newspage ... well, let's bear in mind that the real fault line in mainstream U.S. journalism isn't between "left" and "right" media. It's between the professional media (which extend roughly from the notional political center to the center-right) and the armed propaganda wing of the Bush administration. The grownups have their own sets of biases and blind spots -- sometimes amusing, sometimes outright dangerous -- but they also have some course-correction and self-righting mechanisms. At the Murdoch properties, the blind spot is the mission; you might as well expect Fox News to admit that the earth is round.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

For your next methods class

At last, an e-mail that addresses the secret medical needs of hundreds of young academics: the embarrassment of RMD, or Research Methods Dysfunction. Here's the msg line from the old mailbox:

Buy national qualitative medications!

If you have those pesky stepwise regression equations popping up in the middle of your focus groups, I'm sure Ruben Winkler (bedminstermd [at] will be happy to help. Give him a call!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A shadow of the past

Ever wonder how a free press behaves in a country that's about to go to war? Here's an item to ponder as the coming week's news events unfold.
If you're having trouble with the small type, that's Congress, with "sole power to declare war" in his right hand, grabbing the rampaging New Deal (the, erm, cosmopolitan-looking dude waving the sword of "Undeclared War a la Hitler") by the collar. The paper is Bertie McCormick's Chicago Tribune, the artist is Carey Orr (one of several Trib cartoonists of that era to win a Pulitzer), and the date is Nov. 26, 1941. And some useful reminders are thus entailed:
1) The idea of "liberal media" on the loose in big cities is a historical myth. If anyone hated FDR and the New Deal more than Col. McCormick, it was his Patterson cousins who ran the largest newspapers in New York and Washington.
2) Gosh, when did dissent stop being a conservative virtue?
3) We hear a lot these days about the treasonous weasels who run the New York Times and its commie ilk. It's worth recalling that when the chips are down (and, oh, a certain unfriendly embassy in Lisbon is shaking the trees for back copies of a particular newspaper*), the right-wing press still holds the title for betraying national secrets. It was, of course, the Trib that led its front on the Sunday after the battle of Midway with the announcement that the good guys had won because we'd read the bad guys' secret operational traffic.
In the fullness of time, that one seems more a spectacular screwup -- the responsible editor is better known for a later Great Moment in Headline Writing, "Dewey Defeats Truman" -- than an deliberate attempt to give aid and comfort to the enemy. Still, it kind of makes you close your eyes and envision Sean Hannity working below decks in an eastbound tanker on the North Atlantic in the weeks before the Neutrality Act was repealed, doesn't it?
Anyway, enjoy. It's amazing what a little press freedom can do for democratic debate. We ought to try it sometime.
(And if you're among those who have followed the path of the article that includes the Orr cartoon and some others, it's picking up speed on the publication runway. Long story.)
* I don't make this stuff up. Wouldn't be scholarly.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Quotes and how they get that way

Here's an interesting addition to the recent discussion on quotes and on cleansing 'em (nicely rounded up, with index, at Language Log). Unlike the case that set off that useful round of chat -- the appearance of a quote from a football player in two different articles in the same day's WashPost sports section, with some substantial differences* -- this one isn't about regularizing disfluencies in speech but about how speech gets de-regularized.

Quote-cleaning is always a good discussion to have, because -- well, let's not kid ourselves. Anyone who's spent any time at all in the sausage factory knows how preposterous it is to claim that everything in quotes reflects the exact words of the speaker, and that's leaving aside the question of fairly representing the speaker's intent. In the days when Men Were Men and Notes Were Scribbled, the discrepancies were a bit easier to understand. Quotes were often reconstructed from skeletal notes (see the passage in Mort Rosenblum's Coups and Earthquakes explaining the function of "Nixad must cease am agg"), and the reconstructing reflected both the writer's language skills and the writer's judgment of what the speaker must have sounded like.

The diffusion of better and smaller recording devices was supposed to eliminate that, and it's certainly helped. But recorders can't eliminate "telephone" errors, which result from the enduring inability of the human ear to hear stuff it doesn't recognize. One of my favorites is from the Knight-Ridder Washburo, which phoned a Middle East expert back in the dim days of August 1990 to try to get a handle on just who was this Saddam Hussein fellow whose troops had invaded Kuwait. His goal was "to be the new Solomon of the Middle East," the expert was quoted as saying. What he'd said was "the new Saladin." But Saladin wasn't the sort of guy who rang any bells at K-R, unlike the highly available Solomon, so Solomon it was. The correction was lovely.

Today's example is a bit different, but it still looks like a case of You Hear What You Know. I'm going to suggest it's amplified by the shortage or outright lack of editing that goes into Web-first publishing, which is scary enough as it is. Let's have a look:

DURHAM - Mike Nifong, the former district attorney who spent 24-hours behind bars for withholding evidence during the Duke lacrosse case, was released from the Durham County Detention Facility at 9 a.m. today to the excited utterances from the same supporters who surrounded him Friday.

The "24-hours" thing is a warning signal -- though in the accompanying caption, Nifong has just finished a "24 hour-sentence," so perhaps the hyphen gods were out for coffee when this was posted. "To the excited utterances from the same supporters" is a bigger one, but it's hard to pin down the problem: is it an excess of definite noun phrases, or just an ineptly chosen preposition?

Unlike Friday, Nifong had some things to say.

He thanked the jail staff for "the professionalism of which I was treated and the respect which I was shown. Other than that, I just want to go home and spend some time with my family."

"The professionalism of which I was treated"? Which rewrites into a clause as "I was treated of professionalism"? Whoa. It's in a quote, so it's sacred. We can't change it. But does Mike Nifong talk like that?

Well, no. Or at least, not in this case. The N&O posted a link to the audio clip in question, and there's no doubt: What Nifong says is "the professionalism with which I was treated." How did the reporter manage to hear it so wrongly? (More to the point, why didn't an editor ask the obvious question: "Did he really say that?") Here's a possible clue:

But Nifong had more to say. He was thankful of the supporters who surrounded him during the past two days.

No. He might have been thankful for them (or at least said he was), and he might have thanked them, but he wasn't thankful of them. Which suggests that the writer has some kind of preposition issue. He's not trying to make Nifong look bad; he just doesn't hear any differences between "of" and "with" or "of" and "for," so he grabs the nearest one to hand. Whether it's from tape or from notes doesn't matter. Solomon rides forth against King Richard.

The people who need a talking-to here are the ones on the desk. The soundbite is literally a click away. There's no excuse for not running a license check on something that obvious, especially given all the hints in the text that the writer has trouble with idiomatic phrases. And if this is an artifact of time pressure, the brave new Gannett-led world of throwing stuff up on the Web and waiting for readers to tell you that a lawsuit's in the offing, then a publisher or two has something to answer for as well. The N&O used to take pride in thorough editing. This ought to be embarrassing.

One more quote from the weekend's Nifong coverage stands out:

"He's guilty, he's a dirtbag," said one man, who stood near the jail entrance.

No reason to doubt the veracity of that (and no reason not to erase the comma splice by putting a period between the independent clauses; as a rule, people don't speak punctuation). But "one man, who stood near the jail entrance" is what's known as an "anonymous source." The N&O is normally rather boastful about holding the line against such things:

Every night, N&O editors toss out such unsubstantiated stories, newsworthy as they might be, because of the policy against unnamed sources. Thus, when The Post reported in January that the Bush administration had finally given up on finding weapons of mass destruction, The N&O didn't have the story the next day, even though other papers did.

So why ignore your own policy to include an ad hominem comment of no substantive value in a staff-written news article? At a guess, the N&O is still trying to make up for its uncritical leap into the prosecution's camp at the outset of the Duke case. Which isn't much of an excuse, so I'd be happy to entertain others.

* It can get worse. Back in the pre-Intertube days (the '86 playoffs, if you really want to know), I found 20-some versions of the quote in which Lenny Dykstra described his game-winning homer as his first since his days of playing Strat-O-Matic against his brother -- differing not just in word order or use of the trademark for "card-and-dice baseball game," but in his own precious little brother's name. Two distinct versions appeared on the same page of the Newark Star-Ledger.

Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a ...

Some heds sort of speak for themselves. Though one is tempted to invoke a prominent first-century rabbit whose middle name begins with "H," then ask: If you're going to be a Web-first publication, shouldn't you read the big type before it goes on line?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wait'll Ernie Pyle hears about this

The vigilant gang over at Fox has caught the Hollywood panty-waists making light of America again! Here's the dominant art from early afternoon (until the before-and-after of Osama's new beard look was ready).
What Hollywood is doing, of course, is plotting to geld this American icon by turning him into some sort of internationalized UN-loving do-gooder. Take it away, Fox:
Say it ain't so, G.I. Joe.
The popular all-American comic-book military man and action figure dating back to the 1940s is undergoing a significant transformation for the Paramount Pictures-distributed "G.I. Joe" film, which begins production in February and is scheduled for release in summer 2009.
No longer will G.I. Joe be a U.S. Special Forces soldier, the "Real American Hero" who, in his glory days, single-handedly won World War II.
Christski. G.I. Joe was Soviet infantryman? Is to reel the mind.
In the politically correct new millennium, G.I. Joe bears no resemblance to the original.
At this point, it's fair to point out that he hasn't borne any resemblance to the original for quite some time. Here's a "Private Breger" by Dave Breger, who originated the "G.I. Joe" strip in Yank in 1942. By one account, Breger had to pick a new name for the strip because "Private Breger" was already in commercial syndication, so ... the rest is history. (Mildly exaggerated at the OED, which dates Breger and Joe to 1842, but history all the same.) By 1945, Joe was well enough known to provide a title for "The Story of G.I. Joe," about Ernie Pyle in North Africa.
Now, Pyle's troops -- not to mention Bill Mauldin's, to drag in another draftsman* who became known for his wartime drawings -- were not Special Forces by any stretch of the imagination. One would like to think they might dispute the Real American Heroes bit too (which title didn't come along, G.I.-Joe-doll-wise, until the beginning of the Reagan administration anyway). But Fox has other points to make:
... Joe's transformation, however, isn't sitting well with diehard fans and military types.

"I find it outrageous that they'd want to drop everything American" from the character, said conservative blogger Warner Todd Huston, who wrote about the rumors this week on and his own blog. "That's nuts."
Retired Army Col. David W. Hunt, a FOX News military and terrorism analyst, called the scheme to make a whole new Joe "a shame."
"G.I. Joe is a U.S. guy," Hunt said. "What are we going to call it — Global Joe? International Joe? It's kind of stupid. It's ridiculous that they're doing that."
Hmm. Bit of a sourcing stretch from one chickenhawk and one colonel on the Fox payroll to a groundswell of red-blooded outrage, but there you have it. On to the potted history:
The comic-book character and toy line have already undergone an evolution of sorts since Joe first won the hearts of American little boys — and some little girls — beginning in 1942 with the comic strip and in the early 1960s with the action figure.
... In the post-Vietnam War era in the 1970s, Hasbro decided to downplay G.I. Joe's military theme by renaming the line "The Adventures of G.I. Joe" and recasting Joe as the leader of an adventure team charged with espionage missions and fighting evil.
But in the 1980s, the toy company Hasbro made G.I. Joe more of a superhero and added a host of other action figures, expanding the line to include characters that made up a team of international operatives.
(So the, erm, damage has already been done? On Reagan's watch, no less!!)
Now some critics say the globalization of G.I. Joe has gone too far.
Really? Which?
"G.I. Joe is not an international hero. That's crap," said Col. Hunt. "They don't have to water it down. That doesn't make sense."
Gee. Let's close our eyes and guess who the other critic might be!
For blogger Huston, who played with G.I. Joe as a boy, transforming the entire character into an amorphous task force in the movie feels like a hit to his childhood memories.
Uh, Fox? Gang? Guys? Did y'all know your angry chickenhawk plays with dolls????? Just asking.
Huston believes it's the latest example of Hollywood's hostility toward all things American, and he said he probably won't go to see the film if the existing plans are executed.

"It's the last spit in the face of our military," Huston said. "The doll was G.I. Joe, the government-issued guy who was a hero and American. It was celebrating this one heroic soldier. They want to take even that away."
Suppose we should point out that it was America-hating Hollywood that turned Pyle's Captain Waskow into "Captain Walker"? Or would that be rubbing it in?
One tends to think that Pyle would have a low tolerance for Fox's yip-yip-yip-to-war attitude. Given Mauldin's political proclivities, it's more than fair to guess he would too. So let's give Willie and Joe the last word:
We calls 'em garritroopers. They're too far forward to wear ties an' too far back to get shot.
* Yank also published the wartime work of Bil Keane, he of the Family Circus. Some days one is gladder than others that one didn't go the media history route, isn't one?
(Yeah, the title is stolen from Mauldin too, in case you're wondering)

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Can no one stop them?

Details here. Tune in tomorrow to see if you have a chance, pitiful earthling.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Guilty, guilty, guilty: Any day now!

Time to check in on the case of the Lansing Serial Spree Suspect. ("Serial suspect," which he is in today's 1A hed, is a common weird news elision, even though "serial" isn't the kind of suspect he is, and "spree" is just there because we ought to stop using it altogether.)

As you'll recall from the weekend, the cops declared last week that they Have Their Man ("We've arrested a serial killer"). Friday's paper quoted the prosecutor as saying the man in custody would be charged that very day. By Sunday, it was "Macon is expected to be arraigned Tuesday." And Wednesday, reflecting (presumably) developments up to Tuesday's deadline?

Police expect Macon to be arraigned today or Thursday in connection with one or more of the homicides. Charges in the other cases are expected to follow.

Either of which might happen. And, on the evidence so far, either of which might not. Which is why well-edited newspapers don't write about charges until they're filed. Not to be tautological, but until they're filed, they aren't charges. They're prosecutorial hot air.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Insignificant other

It's perfectly all right for editors to demand that reporters know what they're saying and say what they mean -- not in the Orwellian sense of "if you don't know what a word means, find a dysphemism for it" but in the sense of "be sure it doesn't mean something you don't want it to mean." Polling season, which is looking more and more like a year-round effort, reminds us to be particularly careful:

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton can claim stronger support for president in the Charlotte region than any other leading candidate in either party, according to an Observer/WCNC-TV poll conducted last month.

OK so far. Next?

The two other Democrats named in the poll, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, trail Clinton significantly. Overall, 14 percent said they'd vote for Obama and 13 percent picked Edwards.

OK. Clinton came in at 28% on this question (asked of all respondents): "Of the following Democratic candidates for president, which one -- if any -- would you be most likely to vote for?" So "significantly" is a fair cop, assuming that the writer means that given the margin of sampling error for the entire sample, the difference has only a 5% chance or less of having come about by accident. The variance in the sample is an accurate reflection of variance in the population, given the confidence level.

Of the Republican candidates, the poll shows none with significant support.

Whoa now. Given that Giuliani and McCain are both around 13% in the total sample and 19-20% among Republicans, what do we mean by "significant support"? Looks as if the writer is changing meanings. He wants the one that says "doesn't look like a big deal to me." Bad idea, especially if you have a lot of foamy-mouthed readers around who still think the paychecks arrive in a secret envelope from Moscow and want nothing more than a clear-case of Librul Bias to cap off their Wheaties.

It's worth noting that -- what, half a dozen writers have now gotten bylines on various tales stemming from one set of polling data? All the more reason for the desk to insist that all of them know the basic terms and concepts they're dealing with. Can't pass a 10-question quiz with 80% or better? Then don't write about survey data.

(The Home Office is happy to field inquiries about those workshops, by the way).

Sunday, September 02, 2007

You want a friend? Get a ...

Just one of the many ways in which life on the copydesk is like life in Hollywood: You want a friend, get a chupacabras. (Or just get a dog and tell the AP it's a chupacabras.) Otherwise, it's going to get lonely, because an important part of your job is poking holes in the claims that appear to be propelling articles toward the front page.

One classic case is the "We've Got The Bastard" story. Reporters tend to forget that there's only one correct response to "We're gonna charge him any minute," and that's "Thanks, chief; where can I call you tonight to confirm that the charges have been filed?" In the immortal words of Gus Harwell, it ain't a lawsuit until it has a number. And until the paperwork is in place, talk -- no matter how highly placed the source -- is cheap.

Thus, when you see a graf like this one (from Friday's lede story):

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said the man in custody would be charged today in a Monday assault that killed Sandra Eichorn, 64, a General Motors Corp. retiree. Dunnings said charges for the other attacks would be issued later.

... your first reaction should be to start a pool on when the charges will be filed. Your second is to ask the originating desk how it plans to handle that assertion over the ensuing days until such time as any charges might be filed. Here's how things looked in Saturday's lede story:

Macon's arraignment on the killings was postponed until next week, as Lansing police and Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III compile their case for a string of homicides that unnerved the city for more than a month.

Lansing Police Chief Mark Alley withheld details about the attacks and Macon, saying only that Macon would be charged in Monday's slaying of Sandra Eichorn, 64, a GM retiree who lived alone, and the assault of the 56-year-old woman whose dog chased away her attacker.

And inside Sunday, under the hed "Inmate's family accuses suspect in serial killings" (now there's a source that meets a high burden of proof):

Macon is expected to be arraigned Tuesday on charges related to this week's slaying of 64-year-old Sandra Eichorn and an assault on a 56-year-old woman. Charges against Macon in five other homicides could be filed by Friday.

They sure could! Considering that to date, we've let the cops directly declare this character guilty ("'We’ve arrested a serial killer,' said Lansing Police Chief Mark Alley") and let the prosecutor do so indirectly ("Dunnings said it was unusual for such a case of multiple homicides to be solved so quickly"), one would sort of hope so.

There are copydesk sins of commission here as well. "Lansing residents exhale after arrest of suspect in serial deaths," says the jump hed off Friday's front (reflecting the fourth graf, "And what had been a summer of fear -- especially for women who live alone -- was calmed"). That's a pretty firm conclusion, considering it's drawn from an N of two interviews, the first of them including these sentences: "I hope they got the right guy. I'm still scared. They might have the wrong guy."

It's hard to know exactly what to prescribe. The cops, the mayor and the prosecutor are the ones who've gone out on the limb, and part of our job is to record the wanderings of public officials along whatever limbs they place themselves on. We could consider downplaying the story -- off the front, or at least out of the lede spot -- until the charges come in. We could decline to name suspects unless they're charged. And we could refuse outright to print third-hand swill like this: She added friends and family have called to say they've seen news reports that Macon confessed to several murders including Kronenberg's.

Or at least we can try. That's why you tend to see copy editors in the supermarket on Friday nights, buying those Dinners For One and economy-size bags of Chupacabras Chow.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Words Of One Syllable Dept.

Has a mythical beast turned up in Texas?


No such beast. And heds don't ask. Heds state.