Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cancer cured! Mideast at peace!

Thousands stream back to work as new process makes free newsprint from carbon dioxide and angel tears! Hence, apparently, the prominence given to this tale:

Investor: I had affair with Madoff and lost a fortune
NEW YORK -- An investor who says she had an affair 16 years ago with failed financier Bernard Madoff said Tuesday she described Madoff as “not well-endowed” because she thought the detail was key to understanding his personality.

Whenever you see a hed written off a relative clause ("who says she had an affair ..."), the chances are extremely high that you're seeing a mistake. News heds live in main clauses: who did what to whom ("An investor said she described Madoff as ..."), the parts of a lede that allow you to tell why today is different from yesterday. The lesson for hed writers is that when your hed doesn't match the lede, you need to figure out why, and that often starts with a trip to the archives. And this AP lede from Aug. 14 indicates that your problem is a bad case of Last Week's News:

Bernard Madoff's decades-long fraud might not have been his only secret. A new book says he had a two-decade affair with one of his investors.

Why last week's two-decade affair has shrunk to a mere 18 months in today's tale might be an interesting question, if indeed the sex lives of the principals here were somehow an interesting story. And that gets back to the bigger point: Why does this (ahem) member paper think an axe-grinding assertion about the Madoff endowment is worth the space it's ... no, you can add your own naughty comment here.

Armchair psychoanalysis is, at best, crap to start with. This is not a best case. It's a waste of time and resources. The AP had no reason to flog this book again beyond the adolescent thrill of talking about a public figure's private parts. The newspaper's excuse is even limper.

There's only one reason to waste a single passing second on this story, and that'd be this example of the AP's ongoing struggle with pronoun antecedence:

She said she decided to write the book five weeks after Madoff confessed his multi-decade fraud to the FBI and was arrested in early December.

The former certified public accountant said she revealed the affair to her husband of 37 years and her son and explained that it was a way to earn money after Madoff wiped out her family's life savings and forced the sale of their Manhattan home.

What was a way to earn money -- the affair or the book?

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