Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Making stuff up, or ...

You make the call! Here's the Fair 'n' Balanced lede:

President Obama said he is unaware of longstanding efforts by Republican lawmakers to question survivors of the Benghazi attacks but pledged to investigate it.

There are lots of discursive paths to that particular outcome. Is the actual ... you know, press conference one of them?

 Q: And on the Benghazi question, I know pieces of the story have been litigated, and you’ve been asked about it. But there are people in your own State Department saying they’ve been blocked from coming forward, that they survived the terror attack and they want to tell their story. Will you help them come forward and just say it once and for all?

Read more »

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Make up your mind

Your Editor here is a longstanding advocate of the idea that many so-called "grammar" arguments -- for example, whether an adverb should or shouldn't go between an auxiliary verb and a main verb -- can be settled in most cases by the toss of a coin. That doesn't mean all grammar arguments are optional, so listen and attend.

It's objectively true that Arsenal and Man Utd played to a tie today, but whether Arsenal are an "it" or a "they" depends on which side of the Atlantic you're on. "United were growing in authority" is a fine clause for the BBC; it wouldn't work here, because American English reads the city (or the university, whatever) as an "it" and the mascot as a "they." Detroit = "it," Tigers = "they," and never the twain shall meet O.

What you can't do is mix and match on the same story in the same time zone, which is the problem with the local paper here*. If you're wondering what verb goes with "plus," start by thinking back to first grade. If "one plus one is two" worked better for you than "one plus one are two," make decisions accordingly. But don't use one on the front and one on the jump. That's cheating.

* Its eagerness to gratify anyone or anything that moves a few jobs into downtown is a different matter.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Night of the living similes

Not to be rude, Nation's Newspaper of Record, but on the off chance this meant anything, what would it actually mean?

With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel-guitar string, he found vulnerability and doubt behind the cheerful drive of honky-tonk and brought suspense to every syllable, merging bluesy slides with the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.

Pronouns awake

Was it only six months ago that our friends at Language Log were confident enough to make this observation?

The varsity commentariat seems, for the most part, to have given up on the "Obama is a narcissist because pronouns" meme — we haven't heard this recently from George Will or Peggy Noonan or Charles Krauthammer or Stanley Fish.

Like mouse poop under the fridge, signs of awakening are here.

In 2009, he flew to Copenhagen to give a speech about himself (he referred to himself 26 times in 48 sentences), expecting this to enchant the International Olympic Committee into awarding Chicago the 2016 Games. Unenthralled, the committee eliminated Chicago first from the competition.

And all this felt like an antidote to Obama—to the imperious I, to the inability to execute, to the endless interviews and the imperturbable drone, to the sense that he is trying to teach us, like an Ivy League instructor taken aback by the backwardness of his students. And there's the unconscious superiority

What's this week's puzzle challenge, Alex? Using only letters that can be found in "unconscious superiority," in order, and doubling one consonant, name the adjective that Peggy Noonan really wants to use! Answers are welcome in the comments.

Labels: ,

Friday, April 26, 2013

On making stuff up

The basic rule of making stuff up is "don't," but if you insist on violating that one, it's a good idea to remember Rule 2: Be sure to delete the stuff that shows you violated Rule 1.

A jury in South Bend, Indiana has found that fraud put President Obama and Hillary Clinton on the presidential primary ballot in Indiana in the 2008 election. Two Democratic political operatives were convicted Thursday night in the illegal scheme after only three hours of deliberations in South Bend. They were found guilty on all counts.

That seems to be pretty much what the headline says. And the rest of the tale?

... Under state law, presidential candidates need to qualify for the primary ballots with 500 signatures from each of the state's nine congressional districts. Indiana election officials say that in St. Joseph County, which is the 2nd Congressional district, the Obama campaign qualified with 534 signatures; Clinton's camp had 704.

Prosecutors say that in President Obama's case, nine of the petition pages were apparently forged. Each petition contains up to 10 names, making a possible total of 90 names, which, if faked, could have brought the Obama total below the legal limit required to qualify. Prosecutors say 13 Clinton petitions were apparently forged, meaning up to 130 possibly fake signatures.  Even if 130 signatures had been challenged, it would have still left Mrs. Clinton with enough signatures to meet the 500 person threshold.

When the same paragraph appeared in Monday's version of the story, it didn't have the back-and-forth with Clinton's courtesy title. That suggests two things: One, the writer is recycling his unedited prose, rather than what's gone through the editing process, and two, the editing process itself is pretty careless. Well, and a third thing: Both the writer and the desk have previously produced at least one sentence indicating that today's lede is false.

In a pesky literal sense, of course, the  jury didn't decide anything about whom fraud did or didn't put on the ballot. It was deliberating charges of conspiracy and forgery. That's the sort of foot-fake you can find in real journalism too. But as the cut-n-paste indicates, "fraud put 'em on the ballot" was never even asserted with any certainty; one might have been, and one clearly wasn't.

You'd like to think -- just speaking generally here -- that convictions involving skulduggery in the primary process are interesting enough in their own right that you don't need to spruce them up with fabrications. Wonder when the message will sink in at Fox?


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Let the sunshone in

Resolved, that the first two default answers to any "Ask the Editor" question should be:
  • Did you look it up?
  • OK, did you toss a coin? Then do that.
If the answer to (a) is "yes, and both forms show up a lot in standard usage," then (b) is often the solution that will let you spend your editing time on something important. But by all means resist the temptation to sling grammar terms around as if they meant something they don't:

Q. Is "The sun shined Tuesday morning," or "The sun shone Tuesday morning," correct? – from Hilton Head Island, S.C. on Mon, Apr 22, 2013
A. The sun shone (vi.) Tuesday morning. The sun shined (vt.) on Hilton Head.

No real argument with the first. It's not a usage you desperately need to regulate, but if you feel the regulating urge that strongly, "shone" is just fine.

So, for that matter, is the second usage. The one thing it isn't is "transitive." The sun isn't shining Hilton Head (that'd be transitive, as in shining your shoes or dusting your broom or putting* the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong). It's shining on Hilton Head. There's a difference, but it isn't the difference the AP is proclaiming. And we're not going to win the War on Editing by bringing bogus grammatical claims to a knife fight.

Read more »

Labels: , , ,

Monday, April 22, 2013

This stuff is not made up

Somehow, the Bremner Editing Center has become the world focal point of Elongated Yellow Fruit sightings -- in this case, with real yellow fruit filling!


Sunday, April 21, 2013

This week in journalism history: Termites!

"Vermin press" is a pretty common term for the pro-Axis (and frequently anti-Semitic) media of the early 1940s, but this* is the first time I've seen "termite sheet" for one of the star players. Nice to know you could have a little fun on the Post rim in 1942.

Things were indeed getting uncomfortable up at 12 Mile and Woodward. Father Coughlin's "Social Justice" was accused of cribbing a little too closely from Goebbels's "Angriff," among other offenses. The editor of "Publicity," based in Wichita, was soon to be indicted for sedition. After representatives of "Social Justice" were called to testify before a special grand jury in Washington, Coughlin basically gave up and suspended publication.

* Washington Post, April 17, 1942. INS, the old Hearst agency, merged with United Press in 1958, thus becoming the I in UPI.

Labels: ,

One too many

In the good old days, children, there were people called "slots," whose job it was to make sure that heds arriving from the rim went well not just with their stories, but with the rest of the page.* Here, it would have been nice if someone had decided that the Herald should limit itself to one one-and-one hed per Sunday front.

* Fellow members of the Clean Desk Club will recall "Six Held In Murder Of U.S. Nuns," which I will try to find and scan at some point.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tuvan ale

Tell us more about the Pulitzers, Nation's Newspaper of Record:

An article on Thursday about Caroline Shaw, who won the Pulitzer Prize for music this week, referred incorrectly to a vocal technique explored by a group she has sung with, Roomful of Teeth. It is Tuvan throat singing — a tradition of the Tuvan people of Siberia — not “tooth and throat” singing.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dawn of the Stupid Question

The trouble with question heds is that they have so many answers:

1) Dunno. Since you're the one with reporters and news services and I'm the one with quarters to put in the rack, why don't you tell me?
2) In realist terms? Any of a number of people or organizations who think they can change attitudes or behaviors by randomly killing noncombatants in a highly public way. Or, you know, someone who's just nuts. In a world where punditry was an honest trade, an accurate answer might be: It's either somebody we've heard of or somebody we haven't.
3) What "this" did you have in mind -- standing around holding candles in the air? Because if you don't want the animal brain to think something, don't use a nice big colorful image to cue the animal eyes to set it in motion.

Given all those choices, maybe it would be a good idea to spend that frontpage space on talking about what you know, rather than on showing that you're just as baffled as your audience. 

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

It's the sled

You generally don't want to get into a rap rivalry with Jay-Z.

But the White House on Thursday challenged the mega-artist after he released a track suggesting he got "White House clearance" for his controversial trip to Cuba with wife Beyonce. 

Dear Fair 'n' Balanced Network: I'm afraid we have bad news for you.

Jay Carney, President Obama's press secretary, categorically denied the claim -- reiterating that the Treasury Department handles clearance.
Read more »

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Today in time travel

Just a hint for our friends at The Fox Nation: If you're going to log this in as just another brick in the Kenyan Muslim socialist wall, it'd be handy to clean up the evidence a little first:

Lost in the inaugural hullabaloo was Tuesday’s news that President Obama has relieved Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the colorful and highly decorated Marine who’s been in charge of the crucial US Central Command, which oversees the various wars in the Middle East, since 2010.

Inaugural hullabaloo, eh? I wonder what the future holds!

He’ll retire from both CentCom and the Corps in March, several months short of his expected tour of duty.

Kind of makes you wonder about that "April 10, 2013" next to "Politics," dunnit? I wonder when the original ran. Could it be ... a column from the New York Post on Jan. 23?

Something like that.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Stop wining

And this just in (well, sort of just in ) from the Wall Street Journal:
That last line again: "There was widespread rioting in inner cities as both these conditions and racial tensions fermented dissent." (Now corrected online, alas.)

(Thanks to John Braun, one of the many stalwarts gathered in St. Louis last week for the annual ACES conference.)

Monday, April 08, 2013

Respect your source

Who's on first, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

In addition, an accompanying feature transcribed incorrectly a comment from Callie Khouri, creator of the television drama “Nashville,” about what she would put on her Easter playlist. Khouri said she would include music by Pops Staples, the late patriarch of the singing family the Staple Singers. She did not say she would include “pop staples."

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Today in journalism history

Tribune readers: Tired of that steady diet of feckless Democrats driving the nation toward involvement in a quarrel among those ancient hatreds in Europe? How about a cheap ticket for "Fantasia" at the Apollo?

April 6, 1941

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Mirabile dictu

Did you ever, in your wildest copy-editing dreams, imagine the day when AP style would be the single most important story of the day?

The Associated Press is being accused of trying to influence the immigration debate following a decision to stop using the term "illegal immigrant" in its coverage -- despite the fact it is still being used by U.S. government officials including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

And it wouldn't be the daily outrage story without "some":

... Still, some are wondering why the AP decided to nix the phrase when high-ranking government officials don’t seem to have a problem with it.

The accompanying opinion is distilled nonsense in charred oaken barrels:

George Carlin once observed, “by and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.” He may be giving us that wry head cock right now after the Associated Press has decided to recommend that newsrooms refrain from using the term “illegal immigrant.” Their use of the more precise term “illegal alien” vanished some time ago.
AP recommended no such thing. It made a change to AP style, and newsrooms are free to ignore it as they wish, much as Fox already does with AP's style preferences on "Quran" and "Muhammad" and other such signs of giving into the whims of those scary brown people. As for "more precise" -- George Orwell would be happy to observe that any time two rivals in a style argument describe their choice as "more precise," both are blowing smoke. As the next paragraph makes clear:
Ensuring that moral judgment does not bleed into news reporting is a worthy goal for all free press, but shaping words to fit politically correct molds is simply another form of bias.  Scrapping the term “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” in order to placate powerful lobbies surrenders the language to drive an agenda and interjects opinion into the news.

You have to wonder where Fox's concern about agenda-driving was during Benghazigate. Or not.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

And a warm welcome to ...

... Ed Latham, a regular commenter on the art of the British headline and sub-editor at the (hem) Metropolis Tribune (kaff), whose Ten Minutes Past Deadline can now be found on the list at right. To no one's surprise, it is off to a fine start.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Adjective of the day

If you're wondering how this got to be a "scandal," and how it managed to become the third most important story in the history of the world in space, or why it's still "reportedly" after having been reported in the Post this morning, let us take your mind off those worries:

A former Weather Underground radical who spent 22 years in prison for an armored-car robbery that killed two cops and a Brinks guard now reportedly holds a prestigious adjunct professorship at Columbia University’s School of Social Work.

OK, at the originating paper, there's no "reportedly," and the lede ends with "the Post has learned." But do you get the impression that the Post hasn't asked many adjuncts how they'd describe their work?

Monday, April 01, 2013

Over here are the levees

"Passes over." What a kidder, that Fair 'n' Balanced Network!

But seriously, folks: how would you write the day's outrage story* if the assignment fell your way?

Google’s decision to mark Easter Sunday with a doodle of leftist icon Cesar Chavez atop its search engine angered some users in what they see as a snub of Jesus on the day Christians mark his resurrection.

Well, just a few points:

Read more »

Labels: , ,