Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Editing for clues: Epic fail

"Some ask," eh? Let's have a look at this burst of cask-strength 1A cluelessness from Kansas City in the hopes that other McClatchy papers will have the good sense to forbear:

If swine flu sneezes, will health care reform catch a cold?

Like anxious doctors in an emergency room, health system stakeholders are now trying to answer that question, carefully taking the public’s temperature while watching for warning signs of anger or frustration over the government response to the H1N1 virus.*

The concern: Long lines and vaccine shortages could convince millions of Americans — and one or two crucial members of Congress — that a Washington that can’t deliver flu shots can’t deliver health care reform either.

Could happen. And it'll be a lot easier if you people in charge of the media agenda take non sequiturs at face value.

...Some Democrats insisted that the H1N1 response and the health care debate are only marginally related. (They "insist" it because it's true. Take your thumb off the scales.) One involved a public health response, they said, the other major reforms in health insurance coverage.

But political opponents said the vaccine shortages showed the federal government was ill-prepared to rearrange the nation’s medical care.

“If Kathy (Sebelius) can’t even properly supervise the distribution of vaccines, how in God’s name can we trust them to run our health care system?” asked the conservative Web site Stay Red Kansas.


By now you may have noticed that we don't have a legitimate debate point here.** We have a snowclone: If the government can't [X], how do you expect it to [Y]? Pending approval from upcampus, I'm tempted to classify this form of political discourse as a creedal snowclone. It's an observation about how the political world works in accordance with shared belief:

Priest: If the government can't even deliver the mail ...
Congregation: How can we trust it to run the health care system?
Priest: Reagan have mercy upon us
Congregation: Rush have mercy upon us

You've probably seen quite a few of these in the health care "debate":

Do you want your health care system run like the Department of Motor Vehicles? (No, I want it run like the cable company.)

Government can never run anything as well as the private sector can. (Fine. Let's dig into the records and do a big-N analysis of on-time arrivals. You take USAir; I'll take Deutsche Bundesbahn. Ready?)

Disagreeing with a creedal snowclone is like saying a nice thing about the IRS. It simply doesn't happen, even if your only encounters with the IRS have been prompt, friendly and professional, because the point isn't to build or share knowledge about how people interact with agencies. It's to affirm a shared experience with the awfulness of bureaucracy.

Journalism, on the other hand, is supposed to transmit information along with all the cultural frou-frou. When you see a false analogy, a non sequitur or a raw fabrication, you aren't supposed to take it at face value. If you can't bring yourself to call it out on the spot, at least put it into context:

“If Kathy (Sebelius) can’t even properly supervise the distribution of vaccines, how in God’s name can we trust them to run our health care system?” asked the conservative Web site Stay Red Kansas. Asked why in God's name we should have trusted the government to mount a combined-arms invasion of a country 10 time zones away, Stay Red Kansas sputtered and gave off an acrid odor before shutting down for instructions from Roger Ailes.

Welcome to the world, Stay Red Kansas. Plans, even very carefully done ones, often don't survive contact with the enemy. Stuff happens, and sometimes it happens in ways that don't have anything to do with the eventual success of the encounter or the likelihood of success in future encounters.

The First Amendment is blunt about the sorts of speech and writing it protects: Pretty much everything. But the right to an opinion does not entail a right to an amplifier. Newspapers have a right to do whatever they want, but as journalism has evolved over the past century or so, they have an obligation to do things right. By not calling bullshit on a blatant creedal snowclone, the Star is failing on that one.

* Off topic, but ... is this an outstanding stew of mixed metaphors, or what?
** You can see why the NYT wants to start keeping an eye on the realm of foil-helmet thought, but also why it might not want to take too many such ideas seriously:

Could a form of martial law be imminent? Obama appears ready to cross the Rubicon, and all he needs is a killer virus. Let’s connect some dots.

Just another prelude to the Obama administration grabbing more power and taking away more freedoms.

And where in the Constitution does it say that the President can declare a "national emergency" anyway? Did he consult Congress?

Maybe they will suspend the November elections or the 2010 midterms out of concern for our health, lots of germs can be spread in a voting booth you know. Camp Obama here we come...

Is this the “national emergency” that will trigger deployment of his “Civilian National Defense force??

“National Emergency” is the first step to the Zer0- Marxist-Muslum-Kenyan’s failed attempt at declaring Marshall Law.

Labels: , ,

3 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:33 PM, October 27, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Oooo oooo. I just realized: Obama's going to implement Thurgood Marshall Law!

Or maybe John Marshall? Either way, not good for these guys...

8:17 AM, October 28, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Had to remove that first comment but must admit to embarrassing confusion of Monroe Doctrine with Marshall Plan...

8:20 AM, October 28, 2009  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home