Saturday, March 26, 2016

Why need we editros

So what's new in the delegate selection process today, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

The Associated Press on Saturday declared Sen. Bernie Sanders the winner of the Alaska and Washington Democratic presidential caucuss.

Erm ... both of it?

With 73 percent of Alsaka precints reporting, Sanders was leading front-runner Hillary Clinton 73 percent 79 percentt to 83 percent.

We always tell students that "spellcheck" isn't the same as "editing." But even the oldest-school among you will admit it's better than nothing.

"We knew things were going to improve as we headed West," Sanders said at a rally in Madison, Wis. "We are making significant inroads in ... Clinton's lead. ... We have a path toward victory."

Not even a guess here. Somebody had an advance transcript and didn't fill in the blanks? Reporter couldn't hear and didn't want to go with "argle-bargle"? Did he actually say it?

The Vermont senator is looking for big wins in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington’s caucuses, trying to cut into Clinton’s sizable lead and kick-off a Western swing that he can ride to the July nominating convention.

The biggest prize will be Washington, in which 101 delegates are up for grabs.

Hold that thought, kids:

Sanders hopes the win in Alaska along with ones in Washington and Hawaii, which offer 16 and 25 pledged delegates respectively, will ignite his campaign after a rough trip across the South, and lead to wins in Oregon and California, which offers 546 delegates.

Pretty much unchanged from an update around 5 p.m., suggesting that the graf was resutured for the first results without much attention to its content: "Alaska" was moved up in the edit, but the vote counts for the two smaller states just stayed where they were. That sort of edit is called "leaving the scalpel in the patient," and it looks equally bad on the X-rays. 

True it is that we are all prone to typos, and anybody can slip up in a hurry, and kids got no respect for the law today. That is why we have "editors." Editors stand athwart progress yelling "do the arithmetic" and "where's Alsaka?" and "what did the candidate say?" And, yes, "spellcheck or die."

They do that not because the split infinitive is a sign manifest of Satan on earth, or because they want to throttle your last drop of creativity,* or because they want you to miss deadline, or because they had terrible childhoods and don't think you've suffered enough. They do it because it makes the product look competent and professional. No, really. Spending a few minutes combing out the kinks in the sort of stuff that news outlets throw online because everybody's in a hurry  has a positive and statistically significant effect on whether Real People think it's well-written, professional and worth paying for. (Come to Portland next week and hang around with a bunch of people who agree!)

My favorite part of that study -- OK, favorite except for the bits about what's worth paying for -- involves a variable called "media distance." It takes participants' rating of their own politics on a left-right scale and compares that with how they rate the politics of "the media," yielding an index of whether they see the media as off to their left, off to their right, or sort of in the same place. The only place where editing doesn't make a difference in perceptions of quality and value is that chunk in the middle. Whether you think the media are a left-wing plot or a tool of the corporate right, you can tell whether somebody inspected the product as it left the assembly line.

Should Fox News want a takeaway point (worth every cent they paid for it, by the way), I suggest this: Ideological purity will only get you so far. Readers who are involved enough to move the needle off center on that scale expect some quality for their buck, and simply reciting the party line isn't going to cut it.

* OK, maybe just a little bit on this one.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Today in cognitive dissonance

Some days there's just nothing you can do about your timing, is there?
President Barack Obama recently contended that fighting ISIS is his “top priority” in a joint press conference with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri—but do the American people and the world believe him?
 ... Take for instance the stark difference between French President François Hollande’s response to the terrorist attacks in Belgium on Tuesday and Obama’s.
And how did the cheese-eating surrender monkey outdo the feckless Kenyan usurper today, The Daily Signal?
It was widely reported that immediately after the attack, Hollande called for a meeting with high-level officials to deal with the situation. Also, five days prior, he held a joint news conference standing side-by-side in solidarity with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as he spoke in a serious and measured tone about the capture of Salah Abdeslam, the alleged mastermind behind the Paris attacks. The imagery showed strength and resolve.

Telepathy is good for that, yes.

But beyond optics, Obama’s rhetoric wrote a narrative that betrayed fighting ISIS as being his “top priority.”

If doing the wave with Raúl Castro wasn’t enough, his words signaled weakness by describing what we shouldn’t do instead of what we should do. He said, “What they can do is scare and make people afraid and disrupt our daily lives and divide us, and as long as we don’t allow that to happen, we’re going to be okay.”

You almost hate to say "cut to the Fair 'n' Balanced Network," but -- cut to the Fair 'n' Balanced Network!

Read more »

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

This week in history: Please come to Chicago

Along with the routine elbow* thrown at the "Democratic Admin.'s Hope of Continuing Old Burocratic Restrictions and Regulations," readers of the editorial page at the World's Greatest Newspaper of March 13, 1946, ran across this:

Fifteen persons who were arrested in the course of a Communist inspired and directed riot on Feb. 7, designed to break up a meeting conducted by the Rev. Gerald L. K. Smith, were arraigned on Monday before Municipal Judge George L. Quilici. The outcome was such as might have been expected from Quilici's previous activities as a fellow traveler and patron of radicals.

This wasn't just any random protest (with occasional bottle-throwing and window-smashing) of a speech by a bizarre right-wing political figure. This was the case that became Terminiello v Chicago (1949). Arthur Terminiello, an Alabama priest known -- at least to his supporters and himself -- as "the Father Coughlin of the South," was brought in by Gerald L.K. Smith to address the Christian Veterans of America. You can decide for yourself what his role in "bringing about the investigation of the Pearl Harbor scandal" might have been. The Supreme Court's summary of the ensuing events is a little dry:

Petitioner in his speech condemned the conduct of the crowd outside and vigorously, if not viciously, criticized various political and racial groups whose activities he denounced as inimical to the nation's welfare.

Upholding Terminiello's conviction for disturbing the peace, the Illinois Supreme Court gave a little more detail:

An hour before the meeting, a strong picket line was formed in front of the auditorium. The number in the picket line gradually increased to several hundred and a crowd estimated at 1000 persons gathered outside to protest the meeting. Despite the presence of approximately seventy policemen, a number of disorders occurred. Some persons braved the picket line. Others were escorted by police. Friends were separated. Clothing was torn. Missiles of all kinds were thrown at the building. Twenty-eight  windows were broken. Stench bombs fell on the steps to the auditorium. Forty boys in a flying wedge bowled over policemen forming a cordon on the steps and almost broke into the hall. ... Cries of "Nazis," "damned Fascists" and "Hitlers" greeted those attending the meeting and frequently the crowd shouted and chanted in unison.

Read more »

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Today in monotheism

Let's step back from the daily grind for a moment and enjoy some long-form work -- say, "Does the President Have a Jesus Problem?" from Fox correspondent Todd Starnes's 2012 epic, "Dispatches from Bitter America":

The White House omitted the traditional phrase "in the year of our Lord" on a presidential proclamation declaring May as Jewish American Heritage Month. Instead, the final paragraph read, "the thirtieth day of April, in the year two thousand ten." This decision marks a significant change in White House tradition. Both President Clinton and President Bush signed similar declarations with the traditional "in the year of our Lord" ending.

Imagine the outcry at Fox if the Kenyan usurper had gotten the year right.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Objectivity: Ur doin it wrong

OK, two things. First, pay attention: Don't let the deck say the candidate is going to "host a rally" Friday when the main hed says it's been, erm, postponed.

Second, and more to the point: If you're going to provide "context," in line with the Hutchins Commission's 7-decade-old request that people who provide facts also provide some truth about their facts, try not to screw it up completely:

Trump's campaign focuses largely on job creation and finances.

I'm trying to think of some circumstance under which a grownup, air-breathing observer of the past few months' events would consider that an appropriate summary, rather than an exceptionally courteous and stupid fiction. I'd be much more inclined to place some credence in a reporter who observed that Trump's campaign to date has focused largely on race-baiting and elaborate attributions of all the world's ills to failures in dealmaking. You may like my observation or not, but I find it hard to see how it's a less impartial, let alone less closely observed, rendering of the evidence.

Stenography isn't journalism, but every now and then it's a start -- CNN's fairly capable recital on Thursday of Trump's fondness for inciting violence, for example. In light of that, is it too much to ask for the provincial media to pull the thumb out?


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Tin soldiers and Truman coming

Here's the problem. If you want to rant and scream in a frontpage editorial, you really need to start by having a little respect for the evidence. For one thing, you could avoid proclaiming that turnout fell from 1.9 million to 21%. For another, you could ask whether George Wallace was old enough to have run for president in 1947, because no. (Nixon was closer, but still no.) Do you think your entire audience is as harried, or clueless, as the few copy editors remaining between you and the horror of the shade?

Things are a bit clearer when you read the corrected version online:

From Michigan's primary high point of 47% in 1972  when 1.9 million voters cast ballots in the state's primary — Democrat George Wallace and Republican Richard Nixon won the day — turnout has dropped sharply, to 21% in 2008.

... though you can always hope that the Red Cross will show up soon with some commas. Still, if you want to be taken seriously when you declare on the front page that Donald Trump is a "contemptible billionaire," you probably want to start by demonstrating a little downpage competence.

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Sunday, March 06, 2016

We're hunting wabbits

Shock horror outwage at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network!

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Wednesday, March 02, 2016

A million here, a million there ...

How are things going with those metric conversion charts, Nation's Newspaper of Record?
Also because of an editing error, the obituary referred incorrectly in some copies to the height of an architectural project, devised by Mr. Parent and Mr. Virilio, that is suspended 10 meters in the air. That equals about 33 feet, not 330 feet.

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