Sunday, October 14, 2007

Column of the Year: Nominees sought

Loyal (and disloyal; we know you're out there) readers are invited to submit nominees in all the categories of bad writing covered here: Spot news, features, ledes, heds, cutlines, what-have-you. To get the ball rolling, here's a candidate for Clueless Newspage Column of the Year, and the bad news is it's already a presumptive favorite (given the competition within its own shop, that's saying a lot). Take a bow, Mitch Albom:

What lies behind a shooter's bullet?
In Cleveland last week, a 14-year-old went on a shooting rampage at his school, wounding two teachers and two students, then turning the gun on himself. Grieving children and parents were left wondering: How on earth can something like this happen?
Microsoft's Halo 3 video game -- a first-person shooter experience using guns, grenades and other weapons -- earned $170 million in sales on its first day of availability, making it the hottest-selling title in video game history.

(If you think this one's going to write itself from here, you're right. Mitch is going to alternate paragraphs of news from the week's wires with italicized speculations about the sources of murderous violence. So when the next graf tells us the Cleveland perp styled himself a Goth, "claimed to be an atheist" and wore a Marilyn Manson T-shirt on the fateful day ("though many were quick to deny any connection between the music and the shootings"), you can guess the next set of itals pretty easily):

I throw a little fit, I slit my teenage wrist
The most I can learn, is in records that you burn
Get your gunn, get your gunn
-- Marilyn Manson lyrics

(Mitch? One reason "many" are "quick to deny" any connection between what people listen to and how many people they shoot is that both mayhem and mediated violence have been around for a long time. And to the dismay of people who like to turn a single correlation into the indisputable cause of a complicated event -- nah. Young Baldrick the Elizabethan Goth Teen wasn't driven to kill his stepdad by repeated viewings of "Hamlet," no matter what they said on Fox Newes at XI. But onward!)

In Pennsylvania last week, another possible Columbine-type attack was thwarted when a 14-year-old was taken into custody. He had, in his bedroom, a 9mm semiautomatic rifle, homemade grenades, swords, knives and 30 air-powered guns made up to look like real weapons. People were shocked that a child this young could be harboring such an arsenal.

(Good thing the poppet didn't have a few more weeks and a junior chemistry/physics set, isn't it? Because if we'd waited, another Hiroshima might have been thwarted too! But you sort of get the idea: Mitch is going to give you a graf that ends with something "people were shocked" about, then some facts gathered in a quick search of the Web. As in?)

... Also in the teenager's room, police found notebooks detailing acts of violence, a hand-painted Nazi flag and DVDs, including one titled "Game Over in Littleton," the town where Columbine High School is. People were shocked that a teen this young could show such fascination with violence.
A Google search for the words "Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold," the Columbine killers, returned 78,300 possible references.

(Post Google ergo propter Google, as young Cassius said when the vigiles confiscated two daggers and a copy of the popular board game "Et Tu, M****f*t*t*r III" from his bedroom. But we digress; there's a subhed coming!)

The numbers don't lie

(Yep. They're honest little suckers. As John McCain suggested, though, once the torture starts, they might be giving you the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line rather than those of their fellow evildoers. But let's have some more Mitch!)

Everywhere you look, people are wondering where these crazy people are coming from.

Up to 50% of first marriages, 67% of second marriages and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, U.S. statistics show.

Thirty-one percent of American teenagers believe they'll become famous one day, according to Psychology Today.

A recent survey, "The Decline of Religious Identity in the United States," found that 16% surveyed declined to identify with a particular faith, up from less than 10% in the early '90s.

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in four children is bullied and 87% of teens say school shooters operate from a desire to "get back at those who have hurt them."

"How can these shootings happen?" we ask.

How can we ask that question?

(Guess that answers the hed's original question: Divorced atheist bullies with a burning desire for fame, buying antitank missiles and video games for teenagers. We leave anybody out?)

Honest. If you see a more clueless column, send it in. But from here, Albom looks like a champion.



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