Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In the realm of clowns and liars

A few enter- taining examples of stories that have been cycling through the No. 3 spot over at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network tonight. If these weren't at the top of the news for you tonight, there might be a reason for that. Let's see.

Why do some instances of episodic crime rise to the apparent top of the news -- or, to borrow Fox's terms, how does one killing become a "flashpoint in the immigration debate"? As is generally the case with agenda-setting, the best answer is something like "because it shows up on the front page a lot." You can be forgiven if you haven't heard of this case, but it certainly hasn't been for lack of effort on Fox's part. Hence today's dramatic break: "Cops say man wanted for questioning in burglaries could give them insight into Arizona rancher's murder."

Well, not quite. Things get a lot less sexy in a hurry when we get to the story itself:

Arizona police investigating the killing of a prominent rancher near the Mexican border have identified a man wanted for questioning in a series of burglaries in the area.

Hang on, because we're heading from some slippery terrain on the multiple-self-canceling-negation front:

The Cochise County Sheriff's Office calls Alejandro Chavez-Vasquez, thought to be in his late 30s, a person of interest in the burglaries. Police have not publicly connected Chavez-Vasquez to the March 27 killing of rancher Bob Krentz, but they also haven't ruled out that he might know something about that case.

So the frontpage tease is just a little false. The cops aren't actually saying the "person of interest" could "give them insights"; they just haven't said he couldn't!

"It would depend on what he would be able to tell us about other burglaries and other open cases we have," sheriff's office spokeswoman Carol Capas told The Arizona Star, adding that there are no suspects or persons of interest in the Krentz case.

So Fox's hard-hitting, can't-find-it-in-the-MSM reporting relies, as usual, on the cursed MSM? Which isn't exactly covering itself with journalistic glory either?*

The news release doesn’t identify Chavez-Vasquez as a person of interest in the investigation into the killing of longtime rancher Robert Krentz on March 27, but a news release of this type is unusual and the Portal area is just north of where Krentz was found dead on his ranch.

Planet Arizona! Where the cops never try to slip a charge they can't yet support to the pliant media in the form of ... a news release!

Now let's move back a few hours. See if you can guess why a tale like "Student who spoke to a crowd that included White House officials robbed a store three weeks later, cops say" is worth the front page.

Well, that was tough.

The problem is that almost none of it is true -- none, at least of the stuff that propels the story to the front page. For that to obtain, we'd have to have an inspirational speaker and a "crowd that included White House officials," and those amount to a bizarre exaggeration and a patent lie, respectively.

If you're not familiar with the Fox "Live Shots" feature, "Gig with White House folks, then jail time" is a good example:

Three weeks after he and dozens of others, including top-ranking Obama administration officials, spoke in the nation's capital about building a brighter future for Americans, 20-year-old Demarco Scott robbed an electronics store at gunpoint, according to local police and officials.

We have the makings of a minor case of guilt by association -- if any of the assertions are true. Who was this "inspirational speaker," who were the White House officials he addressed, and what's the connection?

If you've been to a conference recently -- here's the program, if you're bored -- you can probably guess what's coming next. Young Mr. Scott was on a panel (Fox conveniently gives you a link here; he comes on around 25:15), not addressing the multitudes. "Putting People to Work" was one of five workshops in the post-lunch time slot before the closing general session, and if you watch much of the video, you can get a very clear idea of how well attended it was. If any senior White House officials are in the audience, they don't make themselves known. (The speaker before the suspect asks about who does what, and you may draw conclusions from the responses.)

You might have found this session boring. I would have. But then again, the last panel I went to at ISA was about the securitization of infectious diseases, and you might have found that boring too. A conference of this sort is a big gathering with lots of small spaces in which people talk for brief periods about fairly narrow interests, and famous people occasionally show up for important moments. If this guy had a "gig with White House folks," then I've gigged with Helen Thomas, Molly Ivins, Jurgen Habermas, the president of Lebanon and the emir of the Dubai-ites, to name a few. And any honest observer with a few marbles still left would call such a claim raw bullshit of the first order.**

Long story short: Some kid in a job program was persuaded to put on a tie and come talk to a panel about how the program works. Apparently other stuff in his life was going badly, and -- if the cops are to be believed -- he made some remarkably stupid decisions soon afterward.*** To turn this minor local crime into a national story because it offers a chance for a sideswipe at the Maoists in the White House requires a pretty striking level of intellectual dishonesty and moral obtuseness. Conveniently, those are the sorts of characteristics that Fox selects for.

* Anytime we want to start retiring the phrase "person of interest" is fine with me.
** OK, I did give a paper in a small room next to the hall where Molly Ivins was speaking. Try to guess how well attended that one was.
*** It can be surprising what people you know end up doing sometimes.

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Blogger techwriter said...

My favorite headline ever (from yesterday's

Toilet Paper Shortage: Good Raw Material Being Wiped Out

3:54 AM, April 22, 2010  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Man, I would have been so tempted to cancel and take my two (wild guess, as invited) listeners next door....

9:01 PM, April 22, 2010  

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