Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Best of the weekend, you say?

Well, that's what the N&O says, and the N&O wouldn't lie, would it?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's decision to hire nine Ebonics translators for the Southeast region briefly reignited a 40-year debate over whether African-American speech constitutes a separate language.


Look. Here's a suggestion for the N&O and the rest of the purportedly liberal media who ran this drivel.* Don't try to score points by stoking the outrage-meter Fox style. Fox isn't going to return the favor by acting like a grownup medium. Just don't bother. (The lede's patently false, by the way -- the "decision" did no such thing as what's attributed to it -- but we'll get back to that in a moment.)

All right. Best I can tell, Fox was first off the mark with this tale back in August, pinning its story on a Smoking Gun post of the same day, filed under "bizarre." Fox, of course, filed it under "president" and "politics" (maybe they all really do look alike):

It may be raising some eyebrows, but the Drug Enforcement Administration insists it needs to hire at least nine people fluent in Ebonics.

The DEA's Atlanta office has been looking for Ebonics "linguists" since at least May, when job vacancies were posted online.

See where it's going, all you "editors" out there? At TSG, this is basically a geek story, stemming as much from the ideologically freighted term "Ebonics" as from its inclusion among "languages" (rather than being broken into "languages and dialects" on every reference). Your Editor isn't any fonder of the War on Drugs than the War on Terror, but if we're going to throw people in jail, we should at least be doing so on competent evidence. Fine. Be more careful with your RFP next time, all right?

At Fox, it's something different (I'd cite some of the comments it generated, but Fox has gone to a new comment system, and the old ones -- alas! -- are gone). It's another sign of the system gone awry, with your tax dollars being taken by force to feed a politically correct bureaucracy.

CNN, commendably, was a day later but substantially better reported** (if you have to report geek stories, at least). It actually asks some obvious but substantive questions -- whether these are full-time jobs (no), for example, and how much it might cost to have nine people with some sort of linguistics qualification on retainer (dunno).

Still in all, that was six weeks ago. Does the N&O add anything by reporting the story now? Hard to see how. Walt Wolfram is quoted -- but not as prominently or as thoroughly as he was at CNN, for all that he's in the same area code as the N&O and everything. And some locals weigh in (the N&O doesn't tell us, but one gets the impression that the reporter went out to ask some black people what they think). Basically, you're running a meaningless geek story that gives the more obnoxious of your readers (and some mind-bendingly stupid journalists as well) a chance to parade their self-righteous cluelessness -- six weeks late.

It isn't even, on your own evidence, a controversy:

The translators are expected to help the agency decipher wiretapped telephone conversations of suspected drug dealers who speak in the African-American vernacular, which some people think of as little more than slang.

Yes, some people do. And some people think "The Flintstones" is a documentary, and we don't put them in the second graf when we write about science for a reason. They're wrong.

It's been pointed out many times how nice it'd be, for purely grammatical reasons, to have a little more formal language training on the desk. Here's another reason. Think how nice it would be to have someone around to call BS on this one before someone promoted it to "best of the weekend."

* Myrtle Beach? Don't you guys read your own op-ed page?
** Not necessarily better written; work on the sequencing of quotes there, CNN.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Obviously we don't need to understand them; that we don't is probably all the proof we need that they should all be locked up anyway.

1:18 PM, October 05, 2010  

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