Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Don't do this

Here's one of those annoying journalism habits that I had thought was gone with the -- I don't know, gone with the flying-verb hed* or something. How is the Daily Herald of "suburban Chicago" going to come up with a 1A story about the Blago case? Hey, let's ask some psychologists for a little armchair analysis!

Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's denial that anything was wrong, selling himself to reality shows, even his always-perfect hair have caused some to question his state of mind. (How do you tell Fox from real journalism? Well, when it comes to "some" ledes, you don't! But seriously -- this is a benchmark for 1A stories? Big hair makes you a nutcase?)

But now that Blagojevich's federal corruption trial reveals his interest in running for president, his jealousy of others, and his struggle to get money while he and his wife spent $400,000 on clothes over six years, some psychologists say they believe they can put a name to his mental status. (Other than the "mental status" you have to have before running for statewide office anyway?)

Specifically, two prominent Chicago psychologists said Blagojevich displays symptoms of a condition officially known as narcissistic personality disorder. (How do you mean "prominent"? Do they sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the seventh-inning stretch? Or were they on the heavily attended citywide panel discussion on personality disorders? Or were they ...)

Dr. Daniela Schreier, a forensic psychologist at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, said it's impossible to make a clinical diagnosis without a personal evaluation, which she has not done. (Since she's -- how do we put this? -- "right," do you suppose this would be a good time to kill the story?) But, she said, Blagojevich definitely has traits of the condition. (How long did it take for her to come up with this diagnosis? Surely the reporter wouldn't have ... I mean, surely a reporter wouldn't actually call up a prominent psychologist and plant the seed of a suggested malady? Wouldn't that require shopping around for just the right psychologists?

Scott Ambers, a Chicago psychologist, said Blagojevich appears to "hit the jackpot" in meeting the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder.

If by "just right" you mean "will reliably use colorful figures of speech on demand," it looks that way.
Owing to selection bias, we don't know what "psychologists" -- even prominent Chicago ones -- think about the propriety of this. I'd like to know how many disagreed with the reporter, how many pointed out the ethical issues of doing jackleg diagnosis based on fragmentary media reports, and how many hung up on the reporter outright.** (Considering how nice "quoted as an expert source by ..." looks on the vitae, we should all plan to buy the dissidents a beer next time we see them.) And I don't know of any specific prohibitions in the assorted bits of journalism canon against enticing other professionals to bend their own ethics guidelines.

I don't think we even have to go there, because what we have here is simply crap journalism, raw and fragrant. It's a newspaper pretending to be a daytime TV show and not realizing that it's singularly lacking in noise, lights, motion and morons -- though I'm pretty close to conceding that last point.

I'm sorry for the rimrat who had to write the hed, because it's a brutal count.*** But it's nice to think, if only for a moment, that the rimrat turned to the slot and said "The specs aren't the problem. I can't write a hed because the story sucks."

* Quiz 8 in ax fest!
** It's more than possible that, having found two sources, the reporter stopped right there. (Hey, if two sources was good enough for Woodward and Bernstein ...)

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Anonymous Alec said...

How many ex-Governors of Illinois is this now?

4:42 AM, July 09, 2010  

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