Monday, May 31, 2010

Glad we got that narrowed down

Finally, a perfectly accurate weather headline: Might be warmer than usual this summer. Then again, might not.

And it's a hed you can use every month or so with little if any modification. Might snow! Then again, might not.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Half the news for ... well, we're not sure

Here's a piece of news I actually got, for the first time, from the dead-trees edition that lands in the driveway three times a week:

The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News soon will be available for premium home-delivery in some areas by independent newspaper carriers on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, making home delivery available all seven days. The service is expected to start in about a month in limited locations in metro Detroit and will expand over time.

It's been processed by the Freep machine (note the carefully unsplit "soon will be" and the preposterous hyphen in "premium home-delivery"), but the careful reader will shortly be reminded that there's a good reason to keep the publisher from writing for the newspages. Still, it's a big deal. It's been a little over a year since the local papers went to the three-day delivery model, and the brief attempt at a startup replacement last November didn't even get far enough off the ground to make an entertaining explosion when it crashed. How's this idea going to work?

The article suggests it's something like this: If there's an interested independent contractor in your area, the Freep and/or the News will sell the papers to the contractor, who will then work out the price, delivery time and other such details out with you, the readers. My first guess is that we'll work out the cost much like the local and I work out the cost of a pint: they point to the blackboard, and I pay it. A reporter, you'd like to think, would at least have tried for a hairball estimate of the likely price.

That's a potential problem, though not necessarily the problem. Two bucks for a thin two-section* paper that arrives in the afternoon -- no. Buck and a half for one we can read or take in in the morning, maybe. The bigger issue for me is that over the past year and a half, the Freep has done an outstanding job of convincing me that, fond as I am (and have been for some decades now) of reading a newspaper or two or three** in print every day, I really don't need to read this one. It's frenetically overdesigned, poorly written and carelessly processed, relentlessly tabloid, blithely indifferent to the outside world, and convinced for some ungodly reason that I will find the world a better place because Mitch Albom shares in the conventional wisdom of the bluff little guy. No, no, no, no and no, respectively.

Five years ago, I probably would have described myself as addicted to newsprint. Apparently that's not the case. I'm going to have to be won back.

* The original plan was for a single-section paper on nondelivery days; sports got a permanent standalone section during the NHL playoffs last year.
** Bonus points -- looking at you there, Ed -- for readers who can name the newsstand at Notting Hill Gate. When we ran the London buro, we used to stop there first thing after breakfast for a balanced news diet: Sun and Grauniad.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Journalism: Ur doin it backwardz

Sometimes I think this is the great conun- drum of journalism education: If we're trying to teach people to write well, why do we start by teaching them to write badly?

Let's look at three specific learned behaviors of news writing in this lede at the top of Collegetown's Baddest Morning Daily. For convenience,* we're going to call them cycling, officializing and jargonizing:

The Columbia Police Department confirmed there were shots fired at approximately 6 p.m. Friday night at Tiger Village Apartments near Worley and Stadium.

Cycling** is the practice of ledeing with a later stage of your event, rather than the initial (and usually most interesting) one, on grounds that your opposite-cycle competition probably had the fun stuff already. It's why morning stories begin with "firefighters sifted through the ashes ..." if the afternoon news had "fire destroys school." If you thought the confirmation was less interesting than the shooting, you were right.***

Officializing displaces the focus from what's interesting -- somebody got shot -- and puts it on what agencies do: Detectives investigate, firefighters respond, and so forth. "Police confirm" is about process, and ledes ought to be about outcomes.

"Shots fired" is one of those bits of public-safety jargon that need to be gently rendered into the language of civilians. It's easy for reporters to fall into the habit of talking like their sources: police responded to shots fired, two subjects were transported after an extrication accident, and that sort of scanner-talk. Editors are there to remind reporters not to do that.

There's a lot of other stuff to dislike about the lede: It doesn't need the agency's whole name (so "police," rather than "the Columbia Police Department"). Somebody learned how to follow style on "6 p.m." (rather than "six PM") but missed another point: Since there's no "6 p.m. Friday morning," you don't need to specify that it's 6 p.m. Friday night, and how long before sunset was that anyway? It's perfectly all right to say "about," rather than "approximately." And the oliphant in the dining room: Someone got shot. Shouldn't that be in the lede?

If you think of a lede as more like something you can yell in a crowded bar than like something you have to print out and turn in, you're going to get something more like.

A 19-year-old man was injured by gunfire Friday afternoon at Tiger Village Apartments, police say.

Expand on what you know in the second graf, leave out the irrelevant details (and no, the cops probably weren't looking for "weapon casings"), and you can get back to work. J-school actually does have some stuff to teach you, and if we're getting in the way of that by encouraging people to do stuff wrong before letting them do it right, we're letting somebody down.

* And because it's a chance to use lots of "-ize" verbs; flouting the journalism textbook is often a fun place to start.
** Or "second-cycling"; the term reflects the long-established AM and PM cycles of news agencies.
*** The Trib appears not to have caught the story until today, and it has a classic second-day lede: "Police are looking for a suspect in a shooting yesterday evening at Tiger Village Apartments."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Actually, no. Not really.

Orcs are a mockery of elves, trolls are a mockery of Ents, and Fox ... oh, let's just have a brief look at the top news story from this afternoon:

The president's top counterterrorism adviser on Wednesday called jihad a "legitimate tenet of Islam," arguing that the term "jihadists" should not be used to describe America's enemies.

Part foot fake, part red herring. Here's the official version of what was actually said:
Nor do we describe our enemy as “jihadists” or “Islamists” because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenant* of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community, and there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women and children.
If you got to the undergraduate-level class where you learned stuff like the assorted meanings of "jihad," you probably also passed through the stage in eighth grade or whenever at which you can puzzle out the implications of "I won't call you an X, because X is good and you're no good." He isn't saying that blowing civilians up is legitimate; he's saying the new policy isn't going to call it "jihad," precisely because it isn't legitimate.

During a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, John Brennan described violent extremists as victims of "political, economic and social forces," but said that those plotting attacks on the United States should not be described in "religious terms."

That's close enough to random journalistic word salad -- and the "but" gives it a particularly disoriented air of non sequitur -- that you can't conclusively call it a lie, but it's tempting. Here's the relevant quote:
The president’s national security strategy also outlines how we will strengthen other tools of American power which will help us meet many challenges. This includes addressing the political, economic and social forces that can make some people fall victim to the cancer of violent extremism.
In other words (oh, stop the press), people might be more likely to fall victim to the arguments of political violence when those arguments are enabled by political, economic or social conditions. That's almost as profound as noting that water goes downhill -- though understanding that water goes downhill is a pretty good first step if you want to figure out what it's going to do next.

He repeated the administration argument that the enemy is not "terrorism," because terrorism is a "tactic," and not terror, because terror is a "state of mind" -- though Brennan's title, deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security, includes the word "terrorism" in it. But then Brennan said that the word "jihad" should not be applied either.

Which makes sense if you're looking for more examples of the Administration That's Scared To Say the T-Word. Except for this: The United States of America is at war. We are at war against al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates.

So instead of a War on Terror, we have a War on Terrorists? Which creates a problem for the Fox audience exactly how?

There's not a lot surprising about Brennan's remarks. Compared with his comments in the same setting last year, you can make a case that there's not much new on the "I know jihad, senator, and you're no jihad" front:
Nor does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against "jihadists." Describing terrorists in this way—using a legitimate term, "jihad," meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal—risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself.
Indeed, you can start to wonder if the chorus of people who think this administration is incapable of saying the word "terrorist" are deeply dishonest or just deeply illiterate. Brennan certainly isn't shy about pushing the sorts of buttons that Fox likes to push:
That is because "terrorism" is but a tactic—a means to an end, which in al Qaeda’s case is global domination by an Islamic caliphate.
Long story short, there's nothing of substance for Fox to complain about. But if you look at the last two grafs of the story, you get an idea of the context in which you're supposed to understand it.

The comment comes after Brennan, in a February speech in which he described his respect for the tolerance and devotion of Middle Eastern nations, referred to Jerusalem on first reference by its Arabic name, Al-Quds.

"In all my travels the city I have come to love most is al-Quds, Jerusalem, where three great faiths come together," Brennan said at an event co-sponsored by the White House Office of Public Engagement and the Islamic Center at New York University and the Islamic Law Students Association at NYU.

Yeah, "after" by three months. But Arabic --oh, hell, how often do we have to say this? -- is a language, not a religion or a political affiliation. "Al-Quds" is what servis drivers say when they're calling out their destination. It's about as scary as "Paree." Sometimes, people speaking in public will toss in a few Berliners words in a language that might strike a different chord with the audience. If it bothers you that much, stay home.**

Fox looks a lot like journalism sometimes, but don't be misled. As a wiser journalist once said, if I had a yaller dog didn't have any more sense than Fox does, I'd give it pizen.

* Ahem. Give Fox points for correcting this one.
** More kefta for the rest of us.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

All, all is sleeping on the hill

The Freep covers our famous visitor's appearance on campus* yesterday:

It was so hot Wednesday, in fact, Wayne State Police Chief Anthony Holt said emergency medical services treated 46 people during the Obama event. All but one was treated for a heat-related illness. Six -- including at least three students -- were taken to Henry Ford Hospital, where they were treated and released.

If you can't imagine "all of us but him is coming" or "all of them is hungry but that one," you might be wondering how "all but one was treated" shows up in professionally written and (allegedly) processed text. I expect it's the ghost of the stylebook. Somebody's thinking it can't be as simple as it looks -- there's a rule somewhere about everybody, or each, or all, or something, so whatever way "all but one" sense, it has to be the other way! It's style! It isn't supposed to make sense! And thus is another precedent born: Well, that's how we did it last week.

* Right across the road. You can see the stands from my office.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Care for some au poivre with that?

OK, OK, fine, yeah, we get it -- "RSVP" is a well-established English term meaning "reply," in addition to all the annoying French stuff it means. It's still fun to find an "RSVP, please" at the top of the front page. So there.

It was hard to know where to crop this page, because the Orlando nameplate (or "site of former nameplate") is such a congeries. Don't want to go into details about the whole thing, but, um, could we maybe agree that "Boom, boom?" is an alarmingly tasteless hed for the scheduled return of the space shuttle?


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Injured exceptionalism

Interesting choice for the world's most super-important story, isn't it? Not just the content (or the syntax) of the "Always the bridesmaid" phrase, or the propriety of the "one has to wonder," but the story itself:

It's not unheard of for Vice President Biden to get lost in the moment, but during a speech earlier this month to the European Parliament his flattery of the host may have gone a bit overboard, ceding Washington, D.C.'s role as the world's center of liberty.

Think of all the things that have to be true -- at least, understood to be true -- for the lede to make sense.

The U.S. vice president, opening his address in Belgium, argued that Brussels -- considering its rich history and abundance of international institutions -- could well be the "capital of the free world."

He suggested that Washington, D.C., his home, is undeserving of that title -- notwithstanding its wealth of global organizations and the countless international summits that take place there. [Ready for the quote that supports this?]

"As you probably know, some American politicians and American journalists refer to Washington, D.C. as the 'capital of the free world,'" Biden said. "But it seems to me that in this great city, which boasts 1,000 years of history and which serves as the capital of Belgium, the home of the European Union, and the headquarters for NATO, this city has its own legitimate claim to that title."

Biden's trip to Europe in early May came in the immediate aftermath of the attempted Times Square bombing and his comings and goings were not widely reported. The above comment was made during his May 6 address to the European Parliament.

Well, it's 2010, and almost nothing that doesn't blow up or have its own TV show is "widely reported." You can certainly see why Fox overlooked the 500-word newser AP filed on Biden's address:

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that Washington remains determined to deploy its planned anti-missile system in Europe to counter the danger of Iran's nuclear program and its long-range ballistic missiles.

... or AP's follow-up (and UPI's spot coverage) the following day, or the States and AP precedes. More or less everyone else did too. Given all the actual news from Europe that might have made the paper 20 years ago but barely rates a snicker from the wire editor today, that's not surprising.

So what brings a three-week-old story back from the abyss? (Aside from the chance to revive the "Biden's Political Blunders" tale.) Wow, that's tough. The cluelessest vice president EVAR missed a chance to point out that everything about America is the best there ever was! And this was a good way to get through a slow afternoon, until the delusional nutjob Darrell Issa* gave them a chance to say IMPEACH!!!!!! in big type.

* Keep an eye on this character. He's genuinely evil. He actually got an NIH grant at my university yanked last year on grounds that we'd already spent enough damn time studying how people got AIDS, and foreigners are evil anyway.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Prescriptive retaliation

My, my, my. Let's look at how the other side lives for a bit. Not the "New World Order" bit; that's for another discussion, in case you aren't familiar with any of those flavors of deep-catalog paranoia. Have a look at the No. 3 story: "Ariz. taking on accented teachers":

After passing the nation's toughest state immigration enforcement law, Arizona's school officials are now cracking down on teachers with heavy accents.

The Arizona Department of Education is sending evaluators to audit teachers and their English speaking skills to make sure districts are complying with state and federal laws.

Teachers who are not fluent in English, have a heavy accent or do not speak grammatically correct will be temporarily reassigned.

Heh. Well, being from the land of heavy accents, where many people do not speak grammatically correct, I look forward to seeing how this one plays out.

Actually, if this story is true, I'd like to see one of the notionally professional news organizations start explaining how it's going to work. I'm getting a bit worried that coverage of the loonies is left up to the loonies themselves.


Friday, May 21, 2010

My soul unexpectedly rose

Eds: Emergency adverb deletion notice follows text.

Strayhorn notes the predictable reappearance of Satan's Adverb in the AP's jobs lede of Thursday:

The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week by the largest amount in three months.

... and, recalling the old ban on "died unexpectedly" in obits,* wonders if it's time to impose a similar ban on AP ledes about economic statistics.

I'm inclined to agree, and not because I dislike adverbs (I don't) or because the one at issue is charmingly misplaced*** (are people filing unexpectedly, or is the rise unexpected?). I think the bigger problem is that journalists appear -- again -- to be genuflecting to some form of statistical inference they don't understand, and thus taking the collective eye off the ball. We're making this a story about how well the bookies did, rather than how well the horses ran.

Here are some recent examples of AP treatment of the same statistic, with the supporting evidence (when supplied; it's usually a graf or two away) in parens:

Feb. 25: Initial claims for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week while measures of economic sentiment in Europe and business investment in Britain declined.

Feb. 18: The number of newly laid-off workers filing applications for unemployment benefits
unexpectedly surged last week after having fallen sharply in the previous week. (Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected new claims to fall modestly.)

Feb. 4: The number of newly laid-off workers filing initial claims for jobless benefits
rose unexpectedly last week, evidence that layoffs are continuing and jobs remain scarce. (The Labor Department said Thursday that new claims for unemployment insurance rose by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 480,000. Wall Street economists had expected a drop to 460,000, according to Thomson Reuters.)

See where this might be going? Here's the AP of March 4:

The Labor Department also said that initial jobless claims dipped last week after two straight weeks of unexpected increases. New claims fell to 469,000, better than the 470,000 economists had forecast.

At this point -- the difference between a prediction of 470,000 and a result of 469,000 -- it's probably pertinent to note that there are (broadly) two ways to make predictions of this sort. You can look at sheep entrails, the flight of birds or the Magic 8-Ball, or you can put some stuff into an equation and hit a button. Extispicy is for the Sunday morning talk shows, but if you're actually crunching numbers, there ought to be some sort of interval within which I, as a lay reader, can tell whether missing by a fraction of 1 percent makes you a tyro or a pretty good "expert."

For the second time in a week, I'm complaining about a procedure I don't know, but having survived a couple of fairly scary classes in which baby whales were sacrificed to the gods of multiple regression, I don't think it's an unfair question. How does the forecast that "economists" offer to Thomson Reuters come about, how can I judge the relationship between the prediction and the result, and if the gap is alarming, should I blame the economy or the economists?

I will point out further that the prediction/reality gap in the statistics of unemployment claims isn't just a parlor game before we bring out the gin. At some news outlets, routine economic stats that used to be categorized as "business" stories are now "politics" stories. (The curious reader might want to hazard a guess at the point in early 2009 where this phenomenon occurred.) It's hard to wage a campaign against stupidity when media reporting itself makes "stupid" the default option.

Thus ordered: AP economy ledes will henceforth be stripped of adverbs relating performance to predictions. That relationship may be set out in subsequent grafs only if the reporter appears capable of explaining how it is derived and the rough confidence interval in which it operates. That means the horse likes mud.

* On the sensible grounds that if you don't expect to die, you aren't paying attention. Now that I have grown old and descriptivist, I no longer insist** that my obit say "died expectedly." I will settle for "died unsurprisingly but was really annoyed at the timing of it."
** Though Language Czarina still has the list of people who are to be whacked upside the head with a stick if they are assigned to write the said obit.**** Do not be misled by her classroom evals. She will hurt you.
*** One good reason for opposing the split-verb superstition is that putting the adverb between the auxiliary and the main verb is often a good way to reduce this sort of ambiguity. Imagine what might happen if we taught students to diagram sentences, rather than looking rules up in journalism textbooks. Just make it "rose unexpectedly."
**** Nobody out there in readerland, as far as I know.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The gods heroes must be crazy

Close your eyes and imagine the days when some greisly copy editor would have put a query into the margin:

An article on Monday about two journeyman forwards who are trying to make the United States soccer team referred imprecisely to the source of the given names in the family of Herculez Gomez, one of the players. While he, his brother Ulysses and his other siblings take their names from Greek mythology, each was not named after a Greek god.

What sort of lede could have prompted such a correction? Let's ask Lexis-Nexis:

Herculez Gomez, like each of his four siblings, was named after a Greek hero. Edson Buddle was named after a Brazilian one -- Pele, the soccer deity whose given name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

Hmm. We can be pretty sure where the offending "Greek god" went -- there's the "each" in the preceding phrase, and there's the "soccer deity" in the second sentence. But it's actually a little annoying that -- rather than just appending the correction -- the story itself is corrected in Lexis. That could raise some concerns about Lexis as a tool for content analysis, and that ain't good.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Another day on Planet Tabloid

It's always a good day when life imitates Com5080. Today's discussion gets us through the tabloid age, which (of course) provides a chance to recall the Graphic's visual coverage of Caruso greeting Valentino in Heaven and other journalistic highlights of the previous century.

The composograph tradition is alive and well. On what planet but the New York Post could you find the governor's head Photoshopped onto a still from a 45-year-old TV show, along with this helpful lede:

Need more proof Albany’s so-called lawmakers are really space cadets? Gov. Paterson, fed up as do-nothing legislators bickered through a budget summit yesterday, groaned, “Oh, Scotty, beam me up,” a play on the classic “Star Trek” line uttered by Capt. Kirk to his engineer, Scotty (right).*

Why it's a "shriek" in the hed but a "groan" in the lede is a mystery. But if the copydesk at the Post would like a free hint: You know, you really could use a big old Donner Party comma** in a phrase like "Beam me up Scotty." This is "Star Trek," not "Fantastic Voyage."

* The handy directional cue appears on the print page, though it isn't in the online lede.
** That's the comma of direct address that distinguishes "Let's eat, kids" from "Let's eat kids." Prof. Fuhlhage was the first to put it in question form: Donner Party or dinner party?.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The fear of all sums

All right -- I totally stole the hed from this week's Economist, because it's the best hed I've seen in a while and is far better than the lame effort I was playing with for this entry.

Anyway. Enjoyed the Ben Zimmer language column in the Times magazine this month, which reminds me that I haven't been rushing to the magazine first thing on Sunday mornings to read the language column, which probably means some important part of my weekly quota of political and epistemological train wrecks is being met somewhere else now that the "On Language" column is written by an actual language person. I count that as progress, and I expect to be a more regular reader.

Ben's topic is "quant" and how it got that way: a noun meaning not just people who do quantitative research, but people whose quanthood marks them as the double-naught spies of the financial world. It's a deft, professional and speedy (columnists are shortstops, not chessplayers) look at how a word that you might see in daily discourse came to mean what it does. Given my druthers, I'd like to see him spend some time on the cultural factors that make the Times itself so worshipful of some quanty approaches and so clueless about others, but that's asking a lot of a biweekly column that belongs to someone else.

Intentionally or not, the column is even nicer in context. This issue, after all, declares that "we are all statisticians now" (p. 37) and that for journalists, "the recession has ... made capitalists out of everyone" (p. 50). Fortunately, along with platitudes, it has a column by John Allen Paulos that addresses the importance of putting even the scariest of quant results into their appropriate social as well as statistical contexts.

All of that had me in an appropriate mood for Monday's Freep, which produced this candidate for dumbest statistic of the year:

The Fiesta could save its owners more than $100 a year in fuel costs compared with other subcompacts.

This, mind you, from the auto columnist who just the day before had set out to debunk "myths on fuel economy":
The window-sticker mileage figures are a guarantee of the mileage you'll get

Not even close. How you drive has a massive impact on your mileage. However, the window-sticker figures are the only way to realistically compare fuel economy and operating costs when you shop for a new vehicle.

The numbers are generated in lab tests, so every vehicle is held to the same standard. "Your mileage will vary" as the fine print says, but you can trust that a higher EPA rating will save you money.
What I'd like out of a writer who covers the industry? A little basic curiosity -- enough to ask about what the "lab tests" entail, and what the results look like, and their relationship to the number I see in the showroom. In other words, some reporting that not only helps you relate the test conditions to real life (validity) but hints at the relationship of the sample statistics to real life (reliability). There should be an equivalent of the much-abused "margin of error" here. What is it, and why isn't it a part of reporting about fuel economy?

That gets us off track a little from the cosmic measure of fuel economy introduced in Monday's story, the "dollar per year." What the Fiesta "could save" its owners is, in the story's terms, partly a question of statistical significance:

The Fiesta will lead other subcompacts by a significant margin, however. The Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Mini Cooper, Nissan Versa, Scion xD and Toyota Yaris have EPA ratings of 27-29 m.p.g. in the city and 34-37 on the highway.

Not so fast. The city ratings -- 27-29 vs. 29 -- show that in some of those cases, there's no difference at all. How significantly 37 is different from 40 should have some bearing on the overall question, but we're going to have trouble interpreting that without some sort of handle on the average (or test) proportion of city miles and highway miles in our calculations.

And we're still nowhere near addressing the core components of DPY,* or dollars per year: how much does gasoline cost, and how much do you drive? Three years ago, the Official HEADSUP-L Saturn spent most of its time going back and forth on Stewart Road,** and it was fed about once a month. Today, it mostly goes up and down I-75, and it's fed twice a month. It's going about 30% farther per nom, but it has a lot farther to go, so in a short-term sense*** it's a relief that the price has stayed below $3/nom.

Summary? I'm not sure I'd be happy in a world in which we were all statisticians now. (I'm not going to qualify, for one thing.) But I'd be much happier about the future of journalism if people who undertook to use numbers to support their assertions actually paid attention to the numbers/assertions relationship and whether it did what it was meant to do. It's sort of like checking the oil.

* Freep style would probably call for periods: D.P.Y. Ack.
** Honk if you know how to get to the original Manor from Neff Hall.
*** Longer term, we should just tax the hell out of the stuff. My goal is to laugh all the way from campus to the light-rail stop a block from the brewpub.

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Hat trick!

An alert reader from America's Heartland sends in this three-days-in-one lede:

An elementary school teacher from Pleasant Hill died Friday from injuries she sustained when a motorist accidentally struck her the day before, a police spokesman said today.

Keep those cards and letters coming.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Winter longspurs

Today's migratory crash blossom comes from the Orlando Sentinel. Happy birding!

The online heds vary in their blossomness, but both use another ambiguous verb. The home page makes things clearer by marking the noun with an article:

Long, grass-killing winter fuels a run
on sod for brown Central Florida lawns

... but when you click through to the story, the "a" vanishes:

Long, grass-killing Florida winter fuels run on sod

I expect it's entirely personal, but "winter fuels" sounds even more like it wants to be a noun phrase than "winter spurs." Maybe that's primed by all those years of stories linking seasonal gasoline prices to changes in what refineries produce.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Grammar dogs write stuff

This is sort of like watching the Flying Missouri Death Carp slowly make their way toward the Great Lakes. A bizarre usage hops the fence from one press sector to another, and we're left wondering if it's just a one-off or if the damn things have started to breed.

Hed language is as rule-bound as any other dialect. Standard American heds have no problem losing the "be" verb in "2 hurt in accident" but would balk at something like "Mayor arrested after found nude" or "Boy dies after dragged by own cow." Those have generally stayed on the tabloid side of the fence. This is the first case of "being"-elision I've seen in a fishwrap that -- at least on good days -- pays some attention to being careful with hed language. I don't like it, and I hope it doesn't catch on, but as with lexical items like "drawdown" and "went missing," my opinion isn't likely to count for much.

It's hard to see "After missing for 13 years" as a space issue, because "Missing for 13 years, Barfy returns" would have been fine. Except for ... wait, how does the lede go again?

Terry and Blaine Horne had to go to a church meeting 13 years ago this summer on a beautiful hot evening.


... Simba was their beautiful, less than a year old, red-coated Siberian Husky with the ice-blue eyes. (Emergency hyphen drop!)

... They came home, and Simba, with a tag around his neck that identified him as having shots at a certain place, with an ID number, was gone.

Well,the years pass (much more quickly than the story), and three weeks ago ...

She looked outside, and there in the grass, rolling in the morning dew, was the skinniest, sorriest looking excuse for a dog that might have once been red anybody ever saw.

Don't you love the puppyish enthusiasm of a relative clause on the loose? "You're a sorry looking excuse for a dog that might have once been red!" (What's taking so long with the hyphens?)

... This dog, clearly old, back leg limping, close to skin and bones and covered with fleas, walked right up on the deck and sat in its old spot.

"Just like Simba used to," Blaine said.

To summarize the evidence: Young dog vanishes. Thirteen years on, old dog turns up, sits in same spot. Vet says -- eh, can't say it isn't the same dog. What would help us cast the deciding vote here?

... Their daughter, a fourth-grade teacher at Westminster Catawba Christian School in Rock Hill, polled her class. Each kid said it was Simba.

Well, that settles that.

It'd be nice not to push the hed envelope without good reason. It'd be nice if soaring prose had a few more hours of training before it tried to solo. But it'd be even nicer if we saved those conversations for stories that need to run, rather than spending them on stories that ought to be bound up in burlap bags and dropped quietly into the pond.

In case you were wondering, no. I don't think it's a sweet, heartwarming story, and I don't think those alleged virtues, even if present, would make up for holes you could drive a fleet of delivery trucks through. If you want a friend, go hyphenate a sorry-looking excuse for what might once have been a yellow dog.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

T for Texas, T for ...

Corn don't grow at all on ... wait, what?

A picture caption last Thursday with the On Location column, about the Greenwich Village apartment of the singer and songwriter Kenny White, misidentified the location where one of his stringed instruments was made. It was Tennessee, not Tibet.

Perhaps if the brilliance of the "this reporter" lede hadn't been so blinding:

“THEY just played me on the radio — I could have impressed you,” the singer and songwriter Kenny White says, after this reporter, courting coronary collapse, hoofs it up four listing sets of stairs to his apartment on the top floor of one of Greenwich Village’s most idiosyncratic buildings.

... someone might have edited the cutlines with an atlas at the ready.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No, but thanks for asking

Back for another round, it's the third-day version of the story built on a single clause in a mediocre graduation speech!

While knowledge is power, the information age could be too much of a good thing. That's the message some heard in President Obama's weekend commencement speech in which he bemoaned (Keep an eye on that "some," but don't look too hard for the end of the sentence; it isn't there in the original either.)

Speaking at Hampton University in Virginia, the president raised alarms when he said "information becomes a distraction, a diversion" that is putting "pressure on our country and on our democracy." (Likewise the "raised alarms.")

The president suggested less is more when it comes to absorbing news content and urged graduates to take a skeptical eye toward news from blogs, cable television and radio as well as modern gadgets like iPods and PlayStations.

That's kind of, strictly speaking, a lie (go read the thing yourself if you haven't had your fill of graduation addresses this month). So perhaps it's appropriate that we turn to Brent Bozell to fill in for the "some" in the lede:

... But coming from a commander-in-chief known for his fondness for technology and skill at employing it to his political advantage, Obama's comments were seen as more than just a president's lament that the Kindle could someday replace the hardcover.

"Nobody (has) used the media more masterfully" than Obama, said Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center. "Now he turns against certain elements of it because he doesn't need them anymore, he thinks."

That's the context that sets up the real point. Having exhausted the "you LIE!" angle, the Fair 'n' Balanced Network turns its attention back to the War On Fox, though not without some glitches:

Targeting cable, radio and blogs has become somewhat of a political sport of the Obama administration.

The president in February, as the health care debate was in a crescendo, urged Democratic senators to "turn off" their televisions. He singled out CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and blogs, urging lawmakers to get out of the "echo chamber." That was after the administration spent several weeks in the fall criticizing Fox News.

Last September, the president also used a string of major network and cable interviews to scold the media for playing up "outrageous" political comments.

Another odd moment came in March, when an e-mail sent to Senate staffers warned them not to visit The Drudge Report out of concern for a virus. At the time, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., alleged that "somebody" was intentionally trying to "discourage" people from visiting the Web site, which is highly influential in shaping daily news coverage.

Interesting. Most people count the Senate as part of the "legislative" branch, rather than as part of the administration. Even more interesting -- OK, my office computer caught a really nasty virus in March, and the nice IT folks who spent a day cleaning it mentioned that evildoers are getting really good at sneaking their output into parts of legitimate sites. Having kept up with Inhofe's dark mutterings, I asked if the poor computer could have been bitten at the Drudge site. They said, more or less: Can't tell, wouldn't rule it out. So I've taken that bit of free-speech paranoia in a slightly more nuanced context since then.

Free-speech paranoia, after all, is the point of today's little exercise. This clause isn't a top story on the third day because it's the moral equivalent of "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." It's there because if you have nothing to fear, you aren't trying hard enough:

Hitler controlled the news...Why not Obama? Is Obama's copy of Mein Kampf signed by the author?

Perhaps it is getting uncomfortable for Obama to constantly be caught in his lies by an informed America??? Is that why he stopped doing real press conferences or town halls?

What Osamabama meant by "information is a distraction" is that any information that does not come from their approved lamestream media zombies is a distraction to the lies he tells trying to transform America into just another weak European-style welfare state.

Of course he is afraid of knowledge and information because that is the same thing that Hitler tried to pull. Hitler would be proud of obama because surpressing knowlege and information keeps the liberals in power.

Great week to start teaching journalism history, isn't it? Did I tell you I love my job?


Monday, May 10, 2010

Where the WTF-o-meter goes to 11

You know, just when you think it's gotten as deep as it's going to get, somebody reaches over and just cold turns it up to 11.

To figure out how we got from a throwaway line in a a pretty mundane graduation address to today's incarnation of "you LIE," we need to turn away from content analysis for a sec and enter the realm of discourse. If you're coding for manifest content, a line like "Does anyone else feel a little cold in here?" is more or less the same thing as "Does anyone in here have any Grey Poupon?" Discourse analysis is different. It looks for the conditions under which we land at one place or another on the continuum between "Does anyone else feel a little cold in here?" and "Shut the freakin' window."

OK, you can see how it's a little deep for some correspondents out there, but you get the idea: Two very different statements can mean the same thing, and the same statement can mean two very different things! With that in mind, let's look at what the Kenyan Communist Muslim liar-in-chief said to the Kool-Aid-lapping crowd at Hampton, as reported at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network:

The geek-in-chief has a problem with technology. Who knew?

President Obama -- whose campaign was an online juggernaut and whose love of all things comic book, Star Trek and most recently Avatar is well-documented -- went on a tear against gadgets and gizmos over the weekend, telling a graduating class in Virginia to beware the vice of video games and portable music players.

Went on a tear, did he? Beware the vice? Leaving aside the comic books and Star Trek, let's hear more!

He used the speech to warn that new media and new technology are "putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy." And that's not all ... The president told the assembled throng he doesn't know how to use any of those products.

Really? OK, discourse shields up:

"You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank that high on the truth meter," Obama said during the commencement address at Hampton University on Sunday. "And with iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation."

And of course, that was the Big Lie, because:

...The president has a known addiction to his BlackBerry (a.k.a. BOTUS -- Blackberry of the United States), which he could not and would not part with when he entered the White House
, despite security concerns. He admitted "clinging" to it last year -- kind of like voters who "cling" to guns and religion.

He also owns an iPod, meaning that he knows how to use one -- unless he depends on the Secret Service to hit the shuffle button while he's out jogging.

And that must mean he's lying, right? Because it's exactly what the White House transcript says he said!

Well, pragmatically, let's go back a few paragraphs and look at a similar statement, also marked by (laughter) in the transcript (and in the audio):

Most of all, I want to congratulate all of you, the Class of 2010. I gather that none of you walked across Ogden Circle. (Laughter.)

Get it? Sometimes when people say stuff, they mean the opposite of what they really said, but other people still manage to figure out what they're getting at? Child psychology is not our thing around here, but we're going to speculate randomly that this development occurs somewhere around third grade.

OK. We report, you decide. Give it a listen and see if you think "none of which I know how to work" is more like (a) an accurate report of the speaker's adeptness with technology or (b) a speaker orienting himself toward the audience along the lines of "Beer? Never touch the stuff."

I can't claim to know for sure -- but neither, with any honesty, can Fox. And I like my guess a lot better in context of the speech itself.

The bigger point, of course, is: On what planet, with how many suns peeking rosy-fingered through the methane clouds of dawn, is this line worth a lead story? The answer isn't just "a planet on which any day in which you get to bellow 'you LAH' is a good day." It involves a lot of other buttons that the Fox audience just loves to have pushed. How about it, Fox readers?

Well well well now I wonder if the facts don't bear out that that he only dismisses the technology when it suits him. He seems to use it when it benefits him. However, he wants to belittle it when it is used to benefit others or by those who do not see things as he wants them to.

This guy lies as a matter of principle, even about the most trivial things. He has an extremely insecure need to "fit in" with whoever he's talking to.

The technolgy rag was just a cover for his distaste for freedom of informantion(speech) and opposing views. They so much want to limit and control all media. Then we all drink the koolaide.

Wasn't a big part of his campaign bashin McCain for being old, out of touch, and incapable of using a computer? Funny... I always thought iPods were easier to use than computers. I figured mine out in 2 minutes. What a dumb @$$

I love it when a person who has a degree tells us little peons that we are just to stupid to form our own opions and that we should just belive what they tell us.

And Nappy had the nads to ridicule McCain {because of injury suffered while a POW} because he could not e-mail? Pathetic POS. From a looser libtard----no suprise.

step 1, technology is bad and hurting america. step 2 help america, ban all means of communication to help america step 3, reprogram the american mind thru controlled media to accept obama-izm

you guys are missing the point. who cares that he said he doesn't know how to use an ipod when he obviously owns one. let's focus on the bigger issue. obama is demonizing INFORMATION. information is POWER. we have the right to hear both sides of things and make an informed decision for ourselves.

When I have my objective academic hat on, I like to point to the importance of Fox's agenda-setting role and its place on the Milton-Mill axis, along with its entertaining style quirks. When I have my journalism hat on, I just sort of sit there in amazement: These people are deeply, genuinely crooked.

My name's on Friday

This isn't a case of hypercorrection, in that the result isn't a grammatical error, but we ought to have a category for it: errors produced by overinterpreting "style." Hyperformalizing? Hyperstyling? Hyper-Timesing?

Because of an editing error, the On Soccer column on Thursday, about England’s mixed view of the game in the United States, referred incorrectly in some copies to John Harkes, one of the first Americans to play professional soccer in England, and to one of the teams for which he played. He arrived in England in 1990 to play for Sheffield Wednesday; he did not arrive “in England to play at Sheffield on Wednesday.”

Assuming that the original sentence was something like "He arrived to play for Sheffield Wednesday" (which, as ane fule with a search engine can kno, hav all sorts of Web sites*), we don't have the classic stylebook example of time-element ambiguity: "He said Wednesday he would finish the job." There's no difference between "classes start Monday" and "classes start on Monday"** except that the latter -- oh, maybe sounds a bit more Times-ish?

I can't find it in the Times stylebook (better-informed comments are welcome), but it might belong to the category of unwritten rules that Times desks tend to follow -- a disdain for reduced relative clauses, for example -- to help distinguish Times copy from the barbaric yawps on offer at the lesser products.

If that's the case, someone did the writer a disservice for the worst of reasons: following a rule that isn't really there and doesn't really make the difference you want it to. It would have been an easy mistake to head off, and in the course of doing so, you could learn one of those cool bits of annoying trivia that editors love to have in the old toolbag.

We are, after all, the tribe of When In Doubt, Look It Up. And there's a secret footnote to that as well: When not in doubt, look it up anyway. Familiarity breeds correction.

* Know what? I really don't care that the AP has decided on "website."

** St. Custard's hav begun another term.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Attack of the ... wait, what?

Lashes out! Attacks! Gosh, see if you can guess what the Theme of the Day is. Wonder what it's based on?

HAMPTON, Virginia — US President Barack Obama lamented Sunday that in the iPad and Xbox era, information had become a diversion that was imposing new strains on democracy, in his latest critique of modern media.

OK, we've com- plained before about the tendency of hed writers to reach into the vocabulary bag and grab the loudest verb that comes to hand. I think we have something more than the puppyish enthusiasm of the desk at hand here.

And why should he do that?

Is it that time of year already?

Here's the executive summary for you busy readers out there. Don't do this with polls. It's not the sort of thing they measure. Done right, a public opinion poll is a valid, reliable way of drawing conclusions about public opinion, but it's an awful instrument for trying to figure out who or what should be feared by whom in a situation that, should it come to pass, is a year or more off anyway.

While we're at it:

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear appears to have a stronghold on his party's nomination as he prepares to seek re-election next year, but at least one Republican looms as a formidable potential challenger.

OK, maybe he does. Maybe he and his merry men have a secret fastness someplace in Harlan where the sun goes down about three in the day, whence they sally forth to rob and pillage. Or maybe you meant a "strong hold."

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Ministry of Fear

If you woke up feeling pretty good this morning -- get over it. Be scared! No, scareder!

Now. Should you read the story itself (and if you want to conclude from this that "reading the story" isn't a requirement at certain news outlets, go right ahead), you'll stumble across this:

Saturday's tests -- which featured the rare launch of two missiles -- are unlikely to aggravate tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, since they both routinely conduct missile tests.

And you might even conclude that short-range ballistic missiles aren't the problem:

Danger persists from "nuclear insiders with extremist sympathies, Al Qaeda or Taliban outsider attacks, and a weak state."

In other words: No, but thanks for asking.

So why is this the day's top story? I wonder if the comments section holds any clues:


No Islamic state and no state run by a dictator should be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction. We should immediately launch a strategic nuclear strike on Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. If we do not, then in the next several decades, they will trigger a global war of unimaginable proportions.

Isn't this the country that was shown dancing in the streets after 9/11? They should be well into there half life by now. Instead their Kenyan brother resides in DC, or as I like to call it, east california or mecca, the sequel.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Yes, you might say that

Why, yes. You could say there's a lesson for pastors in this, but it's a subtle one. Ready?

Don't conveniently leave a couple million bucks off your income tax returns. Don't take the church credit card to Las Vegas. More generally (you know, this isn't a bad lesson for many of the non-clerical professions too), don't be a crook.

OK, in fairness, sure -- organizations that have nonprofit status should, as a rule, have some sort of oversight mechanism in place that goes beyond trusting the honest face of the person who's collecting the donations. That's worth some discussion. But we're stretching the faith-n-values blanket a bit thin to pull a top story out of Dear Pastor: Don't Steal Stuff.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

No, but thanks for asking

What sort of story could be big enough to knock the Day of Prayer Controversy off the top of the Fox page? Have to be something like this:

Administrators at a California high school sent five students home on Wednesday after they refused to remove their American flag T-shirts and bandannas -- garments the school officials deemed "incendiary" on Cinco de Mayo.

Which you'd like to think of as the ideal Fox holiday, since -- I mean, isn't it about kicking French butt?
Special marks for the new use of "observers" in the prayer lede, though:

As observers celebrate the National Day of Prayer Thursday, a recent court ruling and Army decision to revoke an invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham has shrouded in controversy a day meant for reflection and prayer.

Break out the clue bazooka

This is neither an ungram- matical hed nor an ambiguous one. It is, however, a remarkably dumb one, because it's unambiguously grammatical about something that the story unambiguously says didn't happen:

The police officer was not struck by the gunfire, and the man got away.

Even if you didn't read that far, the lede might have been a bit of a clue:

Police say the man accused of shooting at a police officer last weekend is in jail today, after being caught following a brief pursuit Wednesday on an interstate highway in Charlotte.

Either the target or the projectile could be a fine direct object for "shoot":

Frankie shot Johnny
Frankie shot an arrow into the air, but it went through Johnny first

... but if the target is the direct object here, that means you hit it.

There's an outside chance that some overzealous editor was overextending some dimly misunderstood textbook rule about excessive prepositions: "serve up breakfast" vs. "serve breakfast," for example. Or it could be a particularly inelegant case of elegant variation: the fear of mimicking the lede too closely in the hed. Or it could be just a temporary case of clue fail. Whichever, the general reaction of the reading public isn't "oh, another story screwed up by the desk." The public at large doesn't know where heds come from, so the usual response is to blame the writer.

Thus the hed does double damage. It makes the paper look silly, but it also risks leaving the writer to explain to his sources why someone else's mistake isn't his. That doesn't help the cause.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Sherman's Flight to the Sea

They may be looking for another owner up there on New York Avenue Northeast, but things seem to be business-as-usual in the afternoon news meeting. Else how would an investigative masterpiece by a reporter rented for the occasion from Fox News end up across the top of the front page?

If, to borrow again from Liebling, you're pleased to find out that the South won the war after Sherman's Flight to the Sea, read on a little and see how well the deck hed is supported:

Previously undisclosed FBI documents suggest that the Kent State antiwar protests were more meticulously planned than originally thought and that one or more gunshots may have been fired at embattled Ohio National Guardsmen before their killings of four students and woundings of at least nine others on that searing day in May 1970.

Hmm. "Undisclosed." "One or more shots may have been fired."

As the nation marks the 40th anniversary of the Kent State antiwar protests Tuesday, a review of hundreds of previously unpublished investigative reports sheds a new — and very different — light on the tragic episode.

Really? ("Unpublished" -- we're waiting!)

We do, in the 16th graf, call the documents "declassified," though with no indication of how recently, in what sequence, or in response to what. In the shirttail identifying the author, it's back to "previously undisclosed FBI files." Which puts this question-begging bank shot into a bit better perspective:

Absent the declassification of the FBI's entire investigative file, many questions remain unanswered — including why the documents quoted here were overlooked, or discounted, in the Justice Department's official findings.

Helps to leave the exact sequencing of horse and cart unspecified, because when you look back at the "documents quoted here" --

Rumors of a sniper had circulated for at least a day before the fatal confrontation, the documents show. And a memorandum sent to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on May 19, 1970, referred to bullet holes found in a tree and a statue — evidence, the report stated, that "indicated that at least two shots had been fired at the National Guard."

Another interviewee told agents that a guardsman had spoken of "a confirmed report of a sniper."

-- you can quite fairly wonder whether rumors and second-hand accounts of confirmed reports were ignored or considered and "discounted" in light of better evidence. But the Times (courtesy of its eager guest artist) is on the trail of bigger game:

At a minimum, the FBI documents strongly challenge the received narrative that the rioting in downtown Kent was spontaneous and unplanned, that the burning of the ROTC headquarters was similarly impulsive and that the guardsmen's fatal shootings were explicable only as unprovoked acts.

Ah, the received wisdom of the dominant media culture! Still the highest and best target of WaTms journalism!

How do you say 'CNN' in ...

... Foxspeak? Like this:

[Unconfirmed reports said Shahzad already was onboard the flight to Dubai, and that the plane was recalled to the gate, where he was arrested. "They just caught him at the last second," a federal law enforcement source reportedly told one cable news outlet.]

Apparently, that would be this cable news outlet:

"They just caught him at the last second," according to the source, who said Shahzad was on board the flight to Dubai and the jetway had been pulled back when the plane was called to return to the gate.

The AP is continuing to cover itself in glory, as usual:

Shahzad was being held in New York overnight and couldn't be contacted.

Stay tuned as Your Media continue to tie themselves into knots.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Anniversaries (journalism history)

OK, this one's a day late, but in its own disquieting way it's worth noting: Lord Haw-Haw's last commentary before the fall of Germany, April 30, 1945.

The BBC, where this is archived, isn't sure whether the commentary was actually broadcast; it was taken from a captured tape recorder. And it suggests that the slurred speech is, erm, "probably due to the effects of alcohol." (Bill Shirer had an entertaining tale of getting plastered with Haw-Haw on the roof of the broadcasting station in Berlin during a British air raid, so I'm inclined to accept that hypothesis.)

Fine archive, and I think I'll be using it in the history class this summer. No further comment is necessary.

Scary study of the week

Here's a nice example of how to report on a piece of social science, and if it leaves your faith in the all-conquering power of TRVTH a little shaken ... well, good. The author is Ben Goldacre, and "Bad Science" is his column in the Grauniad. Take it away, Dr. Ben:

Elections are a time for smearing, and the Daily Mail's desperate story about Nick Clegg and the Nazis is my favourite so far. Generally the truth comes out, in time. But how much damage can smears do?

An experiment published this month in the journal Political Behaviour sets out to examine the impact of corrections, and what they found was more disturbing than expected: far from changing people's minds, if you are deeply entrenched in your views, a correction will only reinforce them.

Several things to like so far: He tells you what sort of study it is, provides a link to the study itself (in the 2nd graf; the one in the lede is tweaked to take you more quickly to a live sample of Mail journalism*) and talks about what it found without trying to personalize it. And he's not afraid to call a stunningly dishonest bit of eight-year-old quote-mining a "smear."

Goldacre does a nice job of condensing the methods section without distorting it (another place where most reporting on social science does a poor job). To make a shortened story even shorter, the researchers prepared a simulated AP article (containing a genuine Bush quote) about Iraq's purported WMD programs. Participants (n = 130) were randomly assigned to two conditions: one group got a version mentioning a report that knocked a hole in the whole idea, the other got the story without that mention.

... They had expected the correction would become less effective in more conservative participants, and this was true, up to a point: so for very liberal participants, the correction worked as expected, making them more likely to disagree with the statement that Iraq had WMD when compared with those who were very liberal but received no correction.

For those who described themselves as left of centre, or centrist, the correction had no effect either way. But for people who placed themselves ideologically to the right of centre, the correction wasn't just ineffective, it backfired: conservatives who received a correction telling them that Iraq did not have WMD were more likely to believe that Iraq had WMD than people given no correction. Where you might have expected people to dismiss a correction that was incongruous with their pre-existing view, or regard it as having no credibility, it seems that such information actively reinforced their false beliefs.

One thing it's nice not to see is that tabloid touch of SCIENTISTS SAVE WORLD! This is a nice piece of research that answers a cool question, but it's a small part of the huge puzzle of political information: not just what it looks like and where and how people get it, but what they do with it and how they use it to make sense of the world. This is the broad category of stuff like "reactive devaluation" (people respond differently to the same peace plan if they're told it came from their side, rather than the other side**) and the "hostile media effect" (shown an identical article, State fans and Tech fans will both find it biased against their side). It doesn't answer a big-ticket question: say, does Fox make you stupid or does stupid make you Fox? But it does fill in the picture a bit, and Goldacre does a fine job of demonstrating that it's possible to write sensibly about this stuff for the daily press.

Just for comparison, here's one from the pile of Bad Stuff That Came In During Finals Week:

For CEOs, beauty is a boon, Duke study says
Becoming a corporate CEO is supposed to involve hard work, long hours and business acumen.

It also often requires a solid jaw line and small, piercing eyes, according to a new research study from three finance professors at Duke University.

The hed's flat wrong. The researcher quoted in the story specifically says it didn't find the so-called "beauty premium" as much as a gosh-he-looks-competent premium. And there's nothing about what being a CEO "requires"; the writer just made that up. And does the study hit the newspaper because of the light it sheds on current events? On appearances, it seems more likely to have gotten there because it's about Local Professors. Oh well.

* Is that the same "Tim Shipman" who was making stuff up for the Torygraph from Washington in 2008? Inquiring minds want to know.
** According to his bio, Goldacre (a doctor) works for the NHS, Britain's Kenyan Muslim Communist system of death panels. Surely that doesn't effectaffect your opinion of his analytic skills.