Friday, October 26, 2012

Today in journalism history

Wondering what to do with your Friday night in Chicago? Here's the menu at the Chicago Telenews (part of a national chain of newsreel theaters) from Oct. 25, 1946, as it appeared in the World's Greatest Newspaper.

The Nuremberg executions had occurred just over a week earlier (Oct. 16). As far as I know, the only visual record of the actual event was a set of stills by an official photographer, kept under wraps for a few days by the Allied Control Commission and then released -- except in Britain, which thought that sort of a display pretty barbaric -- to the press. (The Trib ran them as a backpage spread.) Here's how the Detroit News saw the matter in 1946:

A Reuters report has Nuernberg swept with rumors that none of the Nazis condemned to death by the war crimes tribunal was hanged Wednesday morning, but that straw dummies were strung up in their places.

Another indestructible myth is born.

... All of this could have been foreseen by anyone familiar with the traditional circumstances in which dozens of such fantasies have become imbedded in popular superstition; and it was, in fact, foreseen by many, speaking for the American press, who argued fruitlessly for the widest possible publicity for the hangings, against exactly the possibility which has now materialized.

 ... The whole episode should have been photographed by the press ... and these photographs should have  been widely circulated. The secrecy which shrouded the occasion was ill-advised from the start; it is conceivable that at some later day it may prove disastrous. And those responsible are in no position now to say they were not warned.
It was in some ways very much like, and in others very much not like, the on-and-off feud over the Bin Laden photos. Kind of interesting to think of all that in an era in which a nine-day delay was as close to "real time" as moving images got. (Well, that and CLOSEUPS OF OCEAN MONSTERS for a chaser.)


Dumb rednecks with Twitter

In today's dispatches from the "stuff never happens in a vacuum" front, behold the top story at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network:

Texas has a message for international election observers planning to watch over the Lone Star vote Nov. 6: "BRING IT."

Texas officials this week launched a prickly and very public dispute with the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, which plans to send monitors to polling sites across the U.S. on Election Day. The group has done this since 2002 -- but this year, Texas took exception to what officials perceived as a challenge to the latest wave of voter ID laws.

Attorney General Greg Abbott is now threatening to prosecute any observer who breaks state law by getting too close to any polling site.

Read more »

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

War on Editing: 'Such as'

Sorry, can't help it. Whenever I see a "such as" in an already cluttered lede like this one, I reach for the Googles and ...

Mitt Romney abruptly moderated his foreign policy positions in this week's debate on issues like ending the war in Afghanistan and averting another* conflict in Iran, hoping to neutralize one of President Barack Obama's main strengths with the election only two weeks away. But the move toward the political center comes with potential pitfalls.

Granted, you can find some hits -- 134, including the local paper -- for the "issues such as" version, but with 2,500-some for "issues like," I'm more inclined to think some dozens of bitter-enders have too much time on their hands than that the AP moved a writethru to mend the notional error of its ways.

Which would be one thing if it happened in isolation, but things don't. They happen in the context of, oh, this from Tuesday, under the (print) hed "Man being sued over slanderous robo-calls admits it was his voice."

Couple slight problems here. One, whether the communication at hand was "slanderous" or not is the sort of question juries -- not reporters -- decide. Not much point in trying the lawsuit if we know the outcome, is there? That's the sort of question editors were once paid to ask of reporters who thought "asserted to be slanderous" was the same thing as "slanderous."

And two -- "didn't see anything gregarious"? Did we consider asking about that?

With rare exceptions, you can't simply teleport into the future, grab the few moments you frittered away on changing the entirely grammatical "like" to the sniffy "such as," and zip back to keep your reporter from looking like a dolt. But it does seem fair to infer that there's a fairly skewed set of priorities in effect downtown. Come the next round of buyouts or layoffs, the desk will not do well if its claim is something on the order of "Well, we changed lots of stuff that wasn't wrong, but at least we didn't get in the way if writers wanted to take sides in lawsuits over slimy campaign tricks."

* Yes, it would have been nice if someone had edited this in such a way as to indicate we don't already have one.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

That policy debate

Golly. Wonder what "foreign policy" looks like at the Drudge Report and allies?

I don't expect too much substance on foreign policy, and I don't expect much of a competent challenge from the press on the sort of clown-car questions being bruited about. But I'm happy to point out that "he bows to FURRINERS!!!!!" is no kind of policy at all.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Correcting the corrections

And how are things off the tourist track in Europe, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

An article last Sunday about places in Europe off the tourist track misspelled the name of the site of a bomber factory in Regensburg, Germany. It is Messerschmitt, not Messerschmidt.

Good catch, as far as it goes. If you'd looked in your own files, though, you might have concluded that the "bomber factory" in question made fighters. If in doubt, which you won't be if you spend a little time looking things up, you could always zoom out and call it an "aircraft factory," which would be correct either way.

Stories that mistake bomber pilots for fighter pilots are thick on the ground,* but I don't recall seeing the reverse too often. And another useful distinction spirals further down the drain.

In an unrelated development, though -- check out the state of 1A design in August 1943. (The hed at top is the second of the banks under the three-line streamer.) Now that's a story count.

* By no means a failing unique to the librul media; a National Review writer today describes George McGovern as "a fighter pilot in World War II." McGovern flew heavy bombers. 

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Ida know

Who is the mysterious poltergeist who's always following a sports columnist into the clubhouse? He was there after the rain delay:

Max Scherzer stood in the Tigers' locker room, looking all-too refreshed. He was supposed to pitch Game 4 on Wednesday night at Comerica Park. Now he was pulling on a sweatshirt. His dream deferred, he was going home -- even though he was yet to see a raindrop.

"Have you ever been rained out of a game when it didn't rain?" someone asked him.

It isn't the first time we've seen the little fella in the playoffs:

"Had you ever witnessed a pitcher kiss the ball before?" someone asked first baseman Prince Fielder about the toss from Alburquerque to end the top of the ninth. (10/8)

Or this season:

"What does it mean to be in first place?" someone asked Porcello. (7/21)

And he's not just a baseball fan:

Read more »

Monday, October 15, 2012

Well, which is it, young fella?

Why indeed? After all, as our columnist* pointed out last Thursday, it had already been a month since the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, and by that stage in 2001, we'd already invaded Afghanistan. What was the cunning Kenyan socialist thinking?

Maybe -- just going out on a limb here, because he's kind of a basketball guy -- he was setting up a pool on how long it would take somebody at Fox to come up with "October Surprise?" for this rather interesting AP tale. So ... who had 7 p.m. Monday?

* Pasted at The Fox Nation from the Washington Post, if you're scoring along at home.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

On saving America: Thanks, liberal media!

Ever wonder what those pesky Koch brothers are up to? Well, they're saving America, silly! As you might have noticed if you had tuned in to the exclusive interview Saturday night or picked up a copy of, say, the print Wichita Eagle (the hometown paper, where it's the centerpiece) or the KanCity Star (a McClatchy stablemate, where it's the lede). And the Kochs would  appreciate it if you'd show a little respect for all the work they're putting in:

In January 2009, just days after the inauguration of President Obama, Charles and David Koch met in their company headquarters in Wichita with their longtime political strategist, Rich Fink.

The country was headed toward bankruptcy, they agreed. Fink told them bluntly that Obama’s administration represented the worst of what Charles and David fear most: a bloated, regulation-heavy, free-spending government that could plunge the country into another deep recession. That day, Fink advised two of the richest men in the nation that it would be the fight of their lives to stop the government spending spree and to change the course of the country, starting with the 2012 election.

It's a pretty thankless task, saving America from reckless, free-spending, regulation-heavy Kenyan
Keynesianism. How tough is it, Wichita Eagle?

... Two years of condemnations and criticism prompted Charles Koch to break his silence about politics. ... The Kochs say the price for their political involvement has been high: Death threats, cyberattacks on their business, hundreds of news stories criticizing them, calls for boycotts of the company’s consumer goods, and what the brothers see as ongoing and unjustified public attacks from the Obama administration.

That sounds serious. What does their lawyer say?

The brothers say they are taking risks by speaking out. Mark Holden, Koch Industries’ senior vice president and general counsel, said there has been a progression of attacks and lies about the company since Obama’s election, including:
Read more »

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Your winnings, ma'am

Pity the poor misunderstood poll. It's somehow become all the rage to claim that any piece of quantitative research whose results you happen to dislike is flawed by dishonest -- specifically, partisan -- methodology.  Now comes yet another attack on the craft of survey research, worth noting not because of its substance but because of the pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain hilarity of its complaints.

Here's Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin,* who's shocked! shocked! to find that a polling agency is, you know ... asking questions about public opinion:

Exclusive: PPP caught doing advocacy polling on race**

PPP, a Democratic polling outfit, has long been viewed by suspicion by not only conservatives but by independent, credible pollsters. Now there is all the more reason to discount its “polling” as shoddy partisanship.

There follows a pretty long paragraph recounting a phone call with a Wisconsin resident who was perturbed at a telephone survey that had asked whether he thought "conservative media want white people to think Barack Obama hates them." (I know, it has kind of a self-evident ring to it, but social science is all about testing the link between hunches and reality.) So the blogger called the agency and got it to confess:

I asked whether this wasn’t a classic advocacy poll designed to get a specific answer. He demurred, “Well, we were asking a series of questions about conservative media.” He said that this call followed the posting on Drudge of the 2007 video in which then-Sen. Barack Obama (D- Ill.) talks about Hurricane Katrina and denying aid to residents. He claimed that since conservative media were trying to make an issue of this (in fact most conservative outlets downplayed or ignored the issue), it was important to see whether that effort (to poison the thinking of white voters, I suppose) was “successful.”

For a writer whose remit includes an "exacting" look at "conservative policy-making and Republican campaigns, pundits and politicians," that's either astoundingly careless or -- um, you make the call.*** The earth-shattering release of the 2007 video on Oct. 2 was the lead story at that night and through the following morning (above right). The coverage at Glenn Beck's The Blaze site includes some screenshots of the Drudge Report ("Obama's Other Race Speech") and a fairly detailed account of the Hannity program with  Tucker Carlson, whose Daily Caller broke the "exclusive" story of the five-year-old speech. The Washington Times checked in as well. It's hard to imagine the sampling method that could have led to a conclusion that the right-wing media "downplayed or ignored" the issue. But onward!

Read more »

Friday, October 12, 2012

Today in constructivism

Common cold cured! Fractious Near East at peace! And our second-most-important story of the day at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network is ... can we zoom in on the lower left there? That's better:

A panel at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism comparing the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements was stacked with liberal journalists who offered one-sided conclusions, according to one alumnus who attended the event.

Panelists at the event, which was held on Oct. 1 in the prestigious school’s Pulitzer Hall, made “little attempt to hide their sympathies” to the Occupy movement, author Harry Stein wrote in City Journal, a quarterly magazine published by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.

Or, to take another whack at the hed: Guy in Audience Still Whining About Something Panel Discussion 10 Days Ago Wasn't About. (The announced topic of the event, after all, was coverage of social movements, not "comparing" two movements.) Given the throngs that normally pitch tents ahead of time for panel discussions on Monday nights at journalism schools, you can be forgiven for marveling at this one's rise to the top of the national news agenda.

To its credit, Fox does produce a candidate for no-comment of the year, from the panel's moderator, Todd Gitlin:*

“You have nothing to do with news,” Gitlin said. “And you’re wasting my time.”

He's half right. His time was being wasted, but other than that, the story's a pretty sharp illustration of how much Fox really does have to do with news. Columbia may be "no longer Joseph Pulitzer's school," to borrow the whiner's title, but Fox went to the Charles F. Kane school of journalism, and that's alive and well.

Journalism tends to have a pragmatic and fairly scornful reaction to ideas like constructivism. We deal with the real world, after all, and we deal with it quickly, accurately, and without fear or favor, and that's all ye need to know. The idea that news is a constructed commodity that presents socially appropriate conclusions about constructed realities -- often quite well, and often at some physical and social risk to the people doing the work -- doesn't draw a lot of water. But it's the way Fox manages to sneak onto the track and look, at a casual glance, a lot like real journalism.

Read more »

Forbidden ledes

When you can delete your lede without affecting the rest of the story, it is a sign unto you  that you should:

What a difference a debate makes. (Miami Herald)

What a difference a week makes. (Washington Post)

And guess what's back on tap downtown?

A Cadillac DeVille and Nike golf clubs.

That's what jurors in Kwame Kilpatrick's public corruption trial likely will hear about next as the government wraps up its chapter on the Kilpatrick Civic Fund and how prosecutors say the ex-mayor used it as a personal ATM.

The Great Cliches were a burden back in the print days. Why do we think they're going to help us in the age of the Intarwebs?

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Elongateded yellow fruit

Looks like a bit of hypercorrection in the lede here:

For decades the native prairie plant with tomato-like vines, and marbled-sized fruit covered in thin husks, has sprawled across the Kansas prairie in relative obscurity.

Pause a moment to admire the preposed elongated yellow fruit syndrome (introducing the tomatillo as "the native prairie plant with tomato-like vines," &c), then think about "marbled-sized." It looks as if someone reached into the hyphenation bag and pulled out the wrong kind of rule. Adjective-participle combinations ("even-tempered") are fine, but this isn't one of them. We're not talking about the adjective "marbled," as in a nicely marbled piece of beef. We have in mind a fruit about the size of a marble. That's not just a different part of the food pyramid; it's a different part of speech altogether.

Conveniently, nouns form compounds with participles as readily as adjectives do. A fruit the size of a marble is "marble-sized," just as a state shaped like a mitten is "mitten-shaped." When in doubt, try an analogy. If we were talking about a fruit the size of a basketball, it'd be a "basketball-sized fruit," not a "basketballed-sized fruit."

Wondering about the commas? Look to the second graf:

But scientists from around the world are now noticing the wild tomatillo, and wondering if it might provide a major medicinal breakthrough.

The War on Editing doesn't just hit editors. It punishes writers as well. In this case, it looks as if the writers aren't getting the support they need. Someone should attend to that.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Toward a taxonomy of lying

So much nekkid dishonesty, so little time! Anyway, sorry about the extended delays in posting,* but trying to summarize all the random venality of recent times would just get us further off track, so let's get to some new material from today.

If you amuse easily, you might have gotten word of the bizarre Twitter message from Jack Welch (the former CEO of GE) today, basically proclaiming that the monthly unemployment numbers were fabricated by -- how did he put it, Interwebs? -- "these Chicago guys" to distract attention from the Kenyan Muslim socialist's shortcomings on the debate stage.** Calmer heads soon prevailed (tut-tut, fellows, let's not go overboard here), but they prevailed in a way that allowed the conspiracy theory to remain on the table. Here's Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, describing the difference between the stats reported every month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The report, of course, reveals the results of two surveys, one of households, one of establishments. The professional economists and the press usually emphasize the establishment survey because it is viewed as less volatile. The establishment survey was terrible. ... The household survey, on the other hand, portrays a September that was booming.

A little hyperbolic on both counts (when numbers need that much coaching, you should generally try to get them away from their handlers and see if the stories still match up), but not out of bounds.  But he still has a conspiracy to peddle:

Back when President Bush presided over a jobless recovery, the household survey tended to show better news. At the time, every media organization carefully emphasized the establishment numbers, and warned that the household numbers are suspect. That, of course, is what happens when a Republican is in office. For President Obama, you can expect a household survey lovefest.

Read more »

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