Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lede of the day: Wheaties test!

You'd like to think some weary copy editor took up his (or her) dinted blade and went after this one out of a sheer sense of duty, fully expecting to be slapped down for his or her troubles:

Google the words Charlie Crist and vomit and you'll find an item that illustrates just how badly things have been going for Florida's governor and aspiring U.S. senator.

No, don't. That's don't, as in "don't write ledes that begin with 'Google the words ...'," and don't, as in "Didn't we get this out of our system back at the high school newspaper?"

The link features a bit from a Fort Myers radio host who mocks an ad touting Crist's conservative credentials — an ad broadcast during her show.

"After I swallow the vomit that just came up into my mouth … let me address a couple of points," says Mandy Connell. The spot, she goes on to say, "is disingenuous at best and an out-and-out lie at worst."

It's not a pretty image, (It's not?!?!?!?) but these are not pretty times for Crist.

All right. Copy editors don't expect to win many lede fights with Star Reporters, even when the lede is as manifestly stupid and tasteless as this one. Sometimes, all we can do is point to it after it's been sitting on the counter for a week and ask if it still looks as appetizing as it used to. In the broader sense, though -- if we're concerned about the general Limbaughfication of political discourse in America, maybe we should be trying to stamp it out, rather than amplifying it on the front page.

There's a lot to complain about besides the lede, and some of it is the desk's fault. Nothing in the story supports the assertion in the hed: "GOP base flees Crist for Rubio" (anecdotes don't count, and if something in the "recent polls" addresses the issue, we aren't told). That may be how the story was sold, or how it was talked about over the past few days, but if you can't back it up, don't put it in the paper -- let alone the hed.

Smaller, fingernails-on-the-blackboard kind of stuff: The umlaut on "über-conservatives" is a little too hyper-cute (can't tell if that's the writer or an editor). No hyphen, please, in "federal-stimulus package" (it isn't a compound modifier; "federal" modifies "stimulus package, and this is the sort of error that editors tend to insert). "Hammer and tong" gets a lot of Google hits, but the OED and I prefer "hammer and tongs" -- no doubt that Marxist influence* creeping in. We get our modifiers mixed up again in this one:

Convinced that the country is spiraling into socialism, some Republican voters have little interest in compromise and, instead, are looking for a scrappy, conservative fighter. That has never worn well on Crist, who has made a career of being affable and low-key.

I don't read "scrappy, conservative" as coordinate adjectives; "scrappy" is the kind of "conservative fighter" they're looking for. And I think we want "sit well" (to be consonant with), rather than "wear well" (to last or hold out).

News writers write in a hurry; editors are there to smooth out the little bumps. But when they hit a really big bump -- a vomit-in-my-mouth lede on the Sunday front, say -- it'd be nice if we could take a big hammer and smooth it back to the Stone Age too.

* Looks like a tong war to me. But Tolkien used "hammer and tongs" too.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Google the words Charlie Crist and vomit"

I always vomit when I Google Charlie Crist.

9:26 PM, November 29, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you leaving out the comma before the word "too" in your last sentence? And in the little footnote citing Tolkien's use?

I am really not Anonymous. I am John Avila, twitter ID = MichiganCityDDS.

10:29 AM, November 30, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

Hi, John. Your secret is safe with us, even if you have no secret.

I consider that comma optional. I don't see a need for it, but if you like it, enjoy.

I don't dispute (having just gotten a shocked look from Language Czarina) that there are commas that make a difference in meaning. But that comma isn't one of them.

11:43 PM, December 13, 2009  

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