Sunday, May 31, 2015

The black guy's playing golf again!

Today's exercise: Pretend you're a GretaWire reader and think of five comments you'd leave on this story. Now go to the real thing and see how long it takes to find your comments!

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Those rules of hed writing

Three things to remember when you think you've written a headline:

1) Can you tell why today is different from yesterday?
2) Can you tell who did what to whom?
3) If it's the first thing that came to mind, lie down and wait for a second thing to come to mind.

File "Holy NP, Batman" with "Christmas came early" and its friends, forever.


Forbidden ledes

As a general rule, never start a news story -- or, for that matter, any piece of writing that isn't specifically about you and your choice in stereotypes -- by announcing your choice in stereotypes. For one thing, readers might assume that you're more interested in proclaiming how the world ought to work than in observing how it does. And for another ...

Hair pulled into a ponytail, Nike tennis shoes, jeans.

... people might say, "Hey! That sounds just like the guy I had for high school chemistry in 1970!"


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Today in BENGHAZI !!1!!!1!1!!11!!!!!

And what blend of garlic and silver is going to drive the she-demon back to her lair today, The Daily Caller?

Left-wing writer Max Blumenthal helped inspire Hillary Clinton’s debunked talking point that an obscure YouTube movie called “Innocence of Muslims” was responsible for the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.

And that's important because ...?

The son of Clinton’s longtime political adviser and informal Libya consultant, Max Blumenthal pushed his conspiratorial theories onto the secretary of state in the hours after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed.

And that's important because ... ?

The Daily Caller reported in December that Hillary Clinton received the “Youtube video” talking points before the rest of the Obama administration. Clinton was the first administration official to suggest that the violence in Benghazi was caused by spontaneous reaction to the anti-Muslim video, rather than by a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaida.

Clinton first mentioned the video publicly on the morning of Sept. 13, 2012. Obama’s White House speechwriter Ben Rhodes, an NYU-educated fiction writer who was initially blamed for crafting the talking points, didn’t mention the video until Sept. 14, when he sent around a memo preparing Susan Rice and others for Sunday-show appearances to discuss the attack.

And that's important because ... timelines!!?!!?!

Now we know that Hillary became aware of the video on Sept. 12, the day after the attack, through her political adviser Sidney Blumenthal — Max Blumenthal’s father.

Let's stop the tape for a second here. Can we suggest that if Clinton actually "became aware of the video" on Sept. 12, one reason might be that she had tuned in to -- what was the top story on the Fox homepage the morning of Sept. 12, 2012?

Several things bear repeating: 

1) The world is a dangerous and often scary place. It was before the Kenyan usurper was elected, and it will be after the White House is pried from his fell clutch. Get used to it.
2) Lead stories aren't ordained by God and handed down at Sinai, nor do they get to be lead stories by accident. If the "debunked talking point" made sense at Fox, there's probably a reason for it. (Hint: How would Edward Said describe a narrative like "Bloodthirsty savages driven to unreasoning fury by obscure video"?)
3) If the vigilant newshounds of Fox and The Daily Caller really have trouble with the idea that competing explanations aren't always mutually exclusive -- that a plan to cause damage and mayhem can get an opportunistic boost from nonrelated events, or that an event can count as "terrorism" even if it doesn't have a signed and dated Qaida stamp of approval -- maybe they aren't the right people to be explaining terrorism and other forms of political violence.

Just a thought. But BENGHAZI!!!!!! is likely to crop up again over the ensuing months, and it'd be nice if the Fair 'n' Balanced side was reminded every now and then of its own preferred narrative at the time.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

You've got to ask yourself one question

Two questions, actually. The first is "compared to what?" Am I 45% more likely to be murdered in de Blasio's Manhattan than in de Blasio's Brooklyn, or than in Bloomberg's Manhattan, or Duggan's Detroit, or La Guardia's Manhattan, or in the casbah by Colonel al-Mustard with a candlestick?

Murders are way up so far this year in Manhattan, The Post has learned.

Sixteen people were killed around the borough between the first of the year and Sunday. Over the same period last year, the figure was 11. That’s an increase of about 45 percent.

So given that we're comparing de Blasio's second year with his first, you're more likely to be murdered in de Blasio's Manhattan than in ... de Blasio's Manhattan. Your next question should be something like"No, not 'which borough.' Compared to what risk?" That takes a little more work.
Read more »

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Calm down, everybody

Would someone mind injecting a few drops of sweet reason into the water coolers downtown?

Short version: Technically, no. Memorial Day is not the "battle for the playoffs." It's barely even the battle for spring. The season is less than 30% complete. Back in the days before the World Series overlapped with the War on Christmas, it was known as the Fall Classic. (And you guys should remember that; the Tigers represented the AL in the last Series before the curse of the playoffs began.)

You don't have to get off the lawn, and you can wear your baseball cap backward* if you want to. This isn't really a securitization rant, but it does raise some parallel questions. If you're at panic stations for the postseason already, how are we going to know when to start taking you seriously?

* Baseball caps are sort of like the Arabic alphabet; they're only "backward" if there's a fixed value of "frontward." Your music, on the other hand, is STILL JUST NOISE.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Four legs good, two legs better

Hey, kids! See if you can spot the subtle differences in the Fair 'n' Balanced treatment of these two stories of race, new media and the academy!

The tale above reached the No. 4 spot on the homepage today, though it broke out over the weekend in the local press. In a fit of pique somewhere on the continuum between GET OFF MY LAWN!!! and actually cutting eyeholes in the old pillowcases, a very senior political science professor left a comment on a New York Times editorial, complaining (among other things) that:

Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration.

If that seems like the sort of attitude that makes white men seem like a "problem population" for universities, meet our next case, which accounted for four frontpage stories at Fox over 10 days, starting thus:

Critics say a newly-hired Boston University professor has crossed the line with recent tweets bashing whites, but the school says it’s simply free speech.

You make the call: "White masculinity isn’t a problem for america’s colleges, white masculinity is THE problem for america’s colleges.”

Starting to form a picture of the differences here? She's junior (PhD 2014, about to take up her appointment at BU), and she's attacking the most persecuted minority in America, and ... OK, the rest is going to be on the final. (Hint: Why are his comments "racial" while hers are "racist"?) By comparison, here's Fox's lede on the Duke story:

A Duke University professor was defiant after the school last week condemned his "noxious" and "offensive" words in a letter published in The New York Times in which he compared African-Americans unfavorably to Asian-Americans.

Notice something else? Here's a clue from the N&O story:
Read more »

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Volcano gods angry!

My favorite potential band name from the recent ACES conference came when one of the dictionary editors was defending the standards of the trade: "We're not free-love descriptivists." Few word people are. Some innovations work, and some don't, and it's probably a good idea to hold off on the champagne until you have an idea of where stuff is going and how likely it is to get there. Apparently, that isn't happening downtown (online hed shown above, bullet item from the print edition at right).

Sorry. "Offer" doesn't do that -- or, worse, that's exactly what "offer" does in the OED's first definition:

To present (something) to God, a god, a saint, etc., as an act of devotion; to sacrifice; to give in worship

Yes, there follows a definition ("now chiefly archaic or regional") meaning "to make an offer," mostly of marriage, but it takes the preposition, as in "Lord Lansdowne offered to Miss Molesworth." A similar one, to offer on a house, crops in British, Canadian and US usage. But "offer" meaning "to make an offer to" is a new one on me. Still,  rimrats as well as writers seem to recognize it, it gets passive the way verbs do, and story subjects themselves use it elsewhere in the Saturday paper. It's clearly a verb for some people who write about college football recruiting.

I'd be less annoyed -- well, not much less annoyed -- if I hadn't seen this at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network around the same time:
Sure, you can upgrade to first class, but tropical cyclones don't invent weather scales and probably don't even use them. Somebody has to upgrade the poor things; they can't upgrade themselves. You can't make "Ana upgraded" better by making it active; you only make it sillier.

Descriptivism is sort of the grammar equivalent of realism. You don't have to like a regime or what it does or the people who run it, but if it's been in power for six decades, you should probably go ahead and treat it like it's in power. As a corollary: If you don't like seeing jargon slip into news coverage, the time to stop it is now. Tell people to write for their audience, not for their sources. Tell cops writers to stop sounding like cop reports; tell sports writers to stop sounding like the sort of dirtbags who recruit junior-high kids to play Division I revenue sports. Don't be a Free Love Descriptivist -- though if you do, rehearsals are in my basement.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

You're just toying with us now

Were we trying to use up all our Great Cliches before the fiscal year ends, or what?

Bed bugs and lady bugs and lice, oh my!

All three insects are included in new bills introduced in the state Legislature last week.

Apparently someone missed the front page last Sunday, or the lede by the same writer two days before that. Or else we're getting in shape for that balloon race in which the top prize is a painting by a mustachioed surrealist/

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