Friday, December 21, 2012

Made-up stories and Stupid Questions

You can see why this story found its way to the WashTimes's front page: a little pop culture, a little random fear of the swarthy hordes, and a chance to say TERRORISM! But the rule for question heds also holds for ledes:

Could the release of “Zero Dark Thirty” provoke violent protests against the U.S. in response to the film’s searing depictions of “enhanced interrogation” — the coercive, super-secret and bitterly debated methods used by the CIA against al Qaeda terrorism suspects?

If the answer is "no," you probably shouldn't ask the question. Onward:

... Although the portrayal of such treatment given to a prisoner, regardless of his religion, may be deemed offensive by viewers of any faith, the film steers clear of depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad or showing the Koran being desecrated — two acts considered blasphemous by many Muslims.


Muslims have expressed outrage in response to the anti-Islam video “Innocence of Muslims,” the unintentional burning of Korans and a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.

So it must be about time to support the lede, right?

Although “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t enter into any of that territory and nothing suggests a similar chain of events will follow the film’s release, a senior defense official said U.S. forces are always on alert.

Would that suggest ... our hed is bogus?

“I doubt extremist murderers are going to garner much sympathy in the West or in the Muslim world, but we’ll keep an eye on things,” the official said.

This could be a first in sourcing: granting a "senior defense official" anonymity to knock down your own story, then keeping the story out front anyway. And despite the likely glee it set off on the mezzanine at New York Avenue, the hed represents a failure in editing.

Editors work for the person who signs the paycheck, true. But one of the ways they do that is by acting as advocates for the audience. The copy editor is both the last professional and the first amateur to see a story. The professional has a three-letter word for "outrage" ready so the hed can fit, even if nobody says "ire" in real life (alas). The outsider comes to the story ready to be intrigued -- and just as annoyed as any other lay reader at being lied to.

Even if you're sure nothing will make the audience's (and the glass offices') day brighter than further frontpage evidence that the Kenyan usurper's maniacal policies are leading the country to doom, part of the job is sounding like Potter Stewart: I know it when I see it, and this story is not it.

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