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?



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