Saturday, February 13, 2010

Crazed Harvard veterans

Quick, what's the academic equivalent of the crazed Vietnam veteran in news language? The Harvard graduate:

A Harvard-trained biology professor is facing murder charges in the shooting deaths of three faculty members at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, police said early Saturday.

If we asked the Most Trusted Name In News why Harvard was in the lede, we'd probably get something like "but ... but ... Harvard!" Which really isn't good enough. The lede is a concentrated form of agenda-setting; it doesn't tell you what to think, but it does tell you what to think about and how to think about what you're thinking about. Evidently, CNN expects us to think about Harvard-trained biology profs differently from how we think about the ones who got hooded at Carolina or Kentucky or Johns Hopkins. For a story that's so utterly free of context (given that it appears to have been posted around 8:30 a.m. Saturday), that's not much help.

We look for stuff in stories that we're socialized to look for, and what crossed my mind when I saw this one last night -- shooting in a faculty meeting, suspect had been at the U since 2003, 2010 minus 2003 -- was ... urk, tenure case? And that's what everyone who asked around a little seems to have found. (The AP's a little overboard on talking to students in this version, but it manages to hold off on the Harvard until the seventh graf; the NYT gives in by the fourth graf, and the AP moves it up to the second graf in a writethru today.)

Tenure is an opaque and complicated topic, but -- like rejection in employment, love, or the production and distribution of the Great American Novel --it rarely leads to public homicide, which helps suggest why the "who knows why people do stuff sometimes?" category is so big. "Harvard," though, seems designed to give the bottom-feeders something to talk about:

Harvard grad, hummm...

Yikes, apparently not so stellar if an Ivy League "genius" only knows how to cope with a gun and shooting it at people. I wonder if she grew up where she got a ribbon or cookie anyways even though she came in last or misbehaved at the party.

I guess Barry-O has found a new Education Czar....

She just got upset because they laughed at her for pronouncing “corpsman” the Harvard way.

You can't stop people from drawing conclusions, but you don't have to hand them the crayons.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Cause, you know, UGA alums NEVER shoot people.

3:34 PM, February 13, 2010  

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