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?


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