Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Here come de judge

It's only fair to point that there's been a lot of g-droppin' over to the Fair 'n' Balanced Network already this week (viz. the blizzard inanity from Monday at your right), but still in all -- do you get the impression that "Backin' Up De Boss" came a shade too quickly to the little minds?

Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch backed up President Obama on his controversial immigration executive actions during her confirmation hearing Wednesday -- while going as far to say she believed in an illegal immigrant's "right" and "obligation to work."

Things are, we can fairly note, somewhat improved from Fox's precede this morning. Here's the eighth paragraph:

The 55-year-old Lynch -- a black, Harvard-educated lawyer -- is also expected to address the issue of states legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana. 

One reason for the progress that's been made -- to the extent it's been made, which I'd say in many relevant ways it has -- in inclusive language over the past few decades is how silly some stuff looks when you hold it up to a simple "Would you say that about ..." test. Granted, the 28th graf contains a relevant point:
If confirmed, Lynch, a North Carolina native, would become the first black woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, replacing Holder, the first black man to hold the position.
... but I still have trouble imagining a Fox tale describing her first interlocutor here as "a white, University of Alabama-educated lawyer."
Does that make the nominee, in The Fox Nation's endearing term, "Eric Holder 2.0"? On the only criterion that seems to matter to Fox, yes. She's black.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

No, but thanks for asking

There's still time to grab some bottled water and freeze-dried food and settle in front of the TV!

"Cuba - Losing the Last Battle of the Cold War?" airs Sunday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. ET. The program, anchored by "Special Report" host Bret Baier, will take a close look at the two nations and their shared history.

"Last battle of the Cold War" has sort of a Third Battle of Manassas ring to it, though it's not specifically a Fox trick. Journalism has a bad habit of proclaiming grim milestones and psychologically important barriers without much regard to whether the underlying data adds up to something or not. (That pesky Korean situation, for example, might well count as part of the Cold War from some perspectives.) But wait, there's more:

Cuba is many things to many people: To the American military, it’s the location of Guantanamo Bay U.S. Navy base and the terrorist detention facility it hosts. To generations of American presidents, it has been the national security threat at our very doorstep. To Cuban exiles, it’s a long-lost homeland.

I guess we could get three generations out of it: Ike, LBJ, Reagan, Tricky and Ford (birth years 1890 to 1913), JFK, Carter and Bush Sr. (1917-24), and the younguns (1946 and 1961). The bigger question is where, and for how many of those generations, Cuba was "the national security threat at our very doorstep," which seems to be giving away a lot more of the store than the feckless Kenyan did.

Around the world, Cuba is often seen as the little nation that defied the U.S.—and won. 

Just a thought -- do you figure one way to change that perception might be, oh, letting it be known that you're playing a different game?

With the new path in relations, is opening up this “socialist paradise” a chance for Cuba to change its ways, or is President Obama throwing a lifeline to a dying regime? Watch Fox News Channel for answers tonight.

Kind of interesting that anyone might need answers after having seen the question, but -- hey, butts in seats! Pass the freeze-fried popcorn.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

We rewrite, you decide

Where does the news come from on a Fox homepage? Let's have a look:

Your top story:

A program implemented by the National Security Agency to help the U.S. and its allies track the computers and networks used by North Korean hackers was critical in gathering information that led Washington to conclude Pyongyang was behind last year's cyberattack on Sony Pictures.

The New York Times reported late Sunday that the NSA began placing malware in North Korean systems in 2010.

The no. 3 spot:

Several treatment centers built by U.S. troops and meant to receive Ebola patients are sitting empty or nearly empty in the West African country of Liberia, according to a published report.

The Washington Post reports that the worst of the deadly outbreak appeared to have passed before the first treatment centers were even completed. A Liberian government official tells the Post that the centers were built "too late." 

In the outrage spot, it's hard to narrow things down to one source. The New York Post and Sky News both get "Click for more from ..." links at the bottom; the Post tweaks Miss Israel's spelling of "neighbourly" to conform with US style, but Fox uses the spelling on Sky with a (sic).

Here's the shirttail from the one story Fox actually did originate:

Fox News' Serafin Gomez, James Rosen, Hillary Vaughn, Jake Gibson, and Lee Ross contributed to this report.

No wonder Fox has to rely on the grownup media for its substantive coverage. Five writers are contributing to a 10-graf story on party doings.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

I'm not sure that's the point

There's never a moment's rest at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network. If the terrorists and the warmists and the amnesty-ists let up for a moment, something else is coming right at Our Way of Life:

An Army recruiting station has been ordered by higher ups to shelve a sidewalk sandwich board with the wording "On a mission for both God and country.”

The order went out Friday to a recruiting station in Phoenix that had been displaying the outdoor sign since at least October.  The sign board also shows an image of a Special Forces patch and Ranger, Airborne and Special Forces tabs.

And who blew the whistle?

An inquiry from Army Times to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command prompted the sandwich board’s immediate removal.

Not, of course, before it was photographed. Which could lead you to wonder: If the Army Times had a copy of the image, why didn't Fox liberate borrow the image in addition to all the quotes. It's as if you were supposed to get a whole different message entirely.


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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Today in "that's what"

What, no whiskers on kittens?

DEER PARK, Ohio – Ebola, evil voices and the devil.

Those are just a few of the things a Butler County bartender cited as reasons he was going to kill House Speaker John Boehner this past fall, federal agents said.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Today's journalism lesson: The follow-up

Well, this certainly seemed like a major Fair 'n' Balanced story last Tuesday: 

The status of 53 Cuban political prisoners who were supposed to be freed as part of the historic deal thawing U.S.-Cuba relations remains a mystery nearly three weeks after the announcement, prompting criticism from rights groups and lawmakers that the Castro regime is stringing along the White House.

“We are very concerned,” Francisco Hernandez, co-founder and president of the Cuban American National Foundation, told “The problem with the agreement [between Cuba and the U.S.] is that there is no agreement. There are no guarantees. This has been a tremendous victory for the Cuban government.”

... much as it had been a week earlier:

Cuban dissidents have expressed frustrations with the U.S. government over which political prisoners will be on a list of 53 people scheduled to be freed by the Castro regime as part of an effort to normalize relations between Washington and Havana.

So you could be forgiven for expecting this morning's* exclusive from Reuters to be a big deal as well:

Cuba has completed the release of all 53 prisoners it had promised to free, the Obama administration said on Monday, a major step toward détente with Washington.
Read more »

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Today in freedom of expression

Did the morning's No. 3 story on the Fair 'n' Balanced homepage have a bit of a familiar look?

A Michigan union camp where 1960s radical students signed their manifesto will be recognized as an official historical site, in a development critics say lends unwarranted legitimacy to a movement that was linked to violence and anti-Americanism.

It should have; though dated January 11, it was floating around the bottom of the page Friday before disappearing and rising again on Sunday. (Handy tip: Look for the point where the reader comments go from "12 hours ago" to "3 days ago.") Anyway:

The "Port Huron Statement," a 25,700-word document written by one-time University of Michigan student and future California lawmaker Tom Hayden, was signed at a United Auto Workers camp near Port Huron in 1962. But even though the mission statement for the left-wing group Students for a Democratic Society blasted the U.S. and helped spawn a sometimes violent student movement, state officials say it is part of history.  
Read more »


The virtue of consistency

Is consistency overstated as an editing virtue? No, but it might be misstated in some cases. It's consistent -- at least, with the stylebook's rules -- to abbreviate "street" in one sentence (as long as it occurs with a specific address) and spell it out in the next one (as long as it doesn't), or to spell out "road" but abbreviate "avenue" in the same sentence. Readers might be impressed by how closely we follow the rules if they knew and valued the rules; I'm not entirely convinced they can tell hairsplitting in those cases from the simple inability to remember what we did five seconds earlier.

Which seems to be the problem in this 1A selection: Does "decades of inbreeding" take a plural or a singular verb? I kind of lean toward the singular, with the decades as one chunk of time, but if you wanted to stick up for the idea that "decades" here actually means several chunks of time -- hey, it's a big language, and it's probably suffering greater indignities on the sports page even as we speak.

What we shouldn't do, though, is do it both ways within the same column-inch or so: "has" in the cutline, "have" in the text. That looks like we really can't make up our minds.


Monday, January 05, 2015

Heds made easy

Here's the basic, when-in-doubt, fallback rule for writing news headlines: Look for the first independent clause, determine who did what to whom, and write about that. 

North Korea criticized the U.S. on Sunday for slapping new economic sanctions on government officials and organizations Friday after a cyberattack on Sony Pictures — the latest fallout from a Hollywood movie depicting the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

So even if you (hem) missed the "Friday" in the lede or (kaff) didn't read the brief at the same spot on 2A Saturday:

... your old friend grammar will come to the rescue. Let the relative clauses or participial phrases help you pick meaningful nouns and verbs, but when you have to write a hed in a hurry, ask who did what to whom, and that will tell you how today is different from yesterday, and there's your headline.

Why bother? To be strictly mercenary about it, the War on Editing is not going to end well for us if we can't show that we're doing something useful -- for example, actually reading the stuff before we pick out a few big words to entice and alarm the audience. If what we're doing instead is -- well, let's move down to the fourth brief in the column:

The 54-year-old second son of Queen Elizabeth II was named in papers filed with a Florida court last week as part of the woman’s lawsuit against American financier Jeffrey Epstein, whom she says forced her to have sex with prominent people. The woman claims she was forced to have sex with the royal in London, in New York and on a private Caribbean island between 1999 to 2002.

That's quite a bit of trimming and moving around, the upshot of which is to insert an error in the AP's already tormented prose:

The filing was submitted as part of a lengthy lawsuit against American financier Jeffrey Epstein, who the woman claims forced her to have sex with prominent people, including Prince Andrew.

I'm glad we got rid of the "claims," though the effect is somewhat lost when the "sex with the royal" graf is tacked on, with "claims" intact. If you wanted to fix some grammar, on the other hand, there's this on page 4A:

Scott, who suffers from insomnia, tried flotation at the NeuroFitness Center in Southfield, one of three places in Michigan that has flotation tanks, after a friend recommended it.

The relative clause is pointing to "places," not "one," so it needs "have." There's a reason variations of this one are going to show up several times over the course of the semester. You'd be surprised how much trouble you can stay out of -- in heds and text -- if you pay attention to the grammary bits.

How about "sanctions" as a hed verb? Correct grammar, unpleasant usage. "Sanction," meaning to confirm or authorize, has been around since the late 18th century; the OED dates the "impose sanctions on" meaning to 1956. I won't sit around and tell you it's "wrong," but I'll be happy to tell you I dislike it. Not nearly as much as "defend" to mean guard an opposing player ("Smith defends Jones," as in the football cutline on 1C), which doesn't seem to have reached the dictionary's notice yet, but certainly enough to gently suggest changing it. Ignoring the rules is a poor way to win that discussion, and it's not going to be much help next time the desk has to defend a position from the budget ax, either.

Read more here:


Sunday, January 04, 2015

They does?

Sigh. Dear cousins downtown: If the only thing you're going to cover any more is football, could you at least have someone read the heds before they go up?


How are we going to get THAT home?

Considering how easy it seemed to be to work in some sort of preposition -- "at Rose Bowl tailgate," say, or "in Rose Bowl parking lot" -- you have to wonder why the idea didn't catch on more widely.

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Friday, January 02, 2015

And this just in ...

Nothing like spending a day in somebody else's archive, is there? Here's the (then-Manchester) Guardian, live from New York -- well, Lake Success -- in December 1946:

For six hours yesterday nobody had a good word to say for Franco and nobody could agree what to do about him. In one of the most confused and disheartening debates in the history of the United Nations, the Political and Security Committee yesterday managed to agree on nothing more practical than the hope of the delegate from Salvador -- that someday Franco may die in office.

Note the byline: Alistair Cooke, 30 years ahead of his time.

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