Sunday, August 15, 2010

Macbeth: Ambitious or politician?

Hey, kids! How many laffs can you find in this chuckle-choked hed?

First, stupid-question-wise: Yes! Or no. Or "both." Or perhaps it's "neither." Whose opinion is "tactless," and who decided that value judgments belong in 1A news heds? (And why did we pick a judgment that isn't expressed anywhere in the story?) No, you really can't coordinate a noun and an adjective this way, even if they both start with "tac." The deck is simply false. The e-mail shows that one campaign -- not "campaigns," which is plural -- is card-stacking the comments.


And then there's the big one. What's this story doing at the top of the front page anyway? That's the goof from which all the others spring. Somebody decided this was the day's top story, and that meant it got a news-style hed. The basic test for whether a story can handle an old-fashioned vertical count like this one is whether the lede will produce a plausible subject-verb-object* hed -- "Quake kills hundreds," say. How are we doing so far, coach?

The Internet has become a new public meeting place for political campaigns, as supporters and opponents line up to post comments -- often anonymously -- after news stories about candidates.

So our top story today boils down to The Internet: We're Using It!

Are these comments spontaneous and genuine?

That's hard to answer,
(not really) but one suburban campaign for Congress recently instructed volunteers to add comments to the talk-back section of a story about their candidate, the Daily Herald has learned. (Sweetheart, get me rewrite!) The campaign even offered specific quotes for the volunteers to post.


The revelation came after Kelly Klopp, the spokesman for 10th District congressional hopeful Robert Dold, accidentally sent an e-mail to a Daily Herald reporter Wednesday with instructions to "please get some positive comments up" in the comments section attached to a story about a Dold television commercial.

No, I suspect the revelation came "when," not "after," the bumbling e-mail arrived.


In the e-mail, Klopp suggested possible messages for the volunteers to post, including "Heard the ad and liked it" and "Nice to see the candidate talk about himself without just attacking his opponent."

To summarize: Other campaigns say they don't do this, poli-sci prof says nobody should be surprised, and you could basically write the rest yourself. So what's it doing at the top of the front? At a guess, it's a burst of injured propriety the paper is exercising on behalf of the readership: We work all day over a hot public sphere, and all you people do is play sock-puppet with it!

If that's indeed the problem, here's the solution. Cut off the comments. Start small if you want: No comments on campaign stories. It's narrowly tailored and content-neutral, and (this should go without saying, but there's always some moron yelling "censorship!") it's not really restricting speech at all. You aren't telling people they can't lie about candidates; you're just declining to open another electronic forum in which they could do so.

Who knows? Before long, people might form the idea that comments on news stories in general are a waste of time.


* OK, or subject-verb-adjunct: "Scores die in quake." You get the idea.

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