Sunday, July 31, 2016

Noun piles on the march

British colleagues, did you have enough information to decipher the hed on the first go, or did you need to read the lede?

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has attracted outrage by mocking a dead US Muslim soldier's mother.

Ghazala Khan stood silently next to her husband as he attacked Mr Trump in an emotional speech to the Democratic National Convention on Thursday.
Mr Trump suggested she may not have been allowed to speak.

Republicans and Democrats said the Republican candidate's comments were no way to talk of a hero's mother. Mrs Khan said she was upset by his remarks.

I think it's the genitive that throws me off track -- it signals that "Trump soldier" is the noun phrase. That might just be me.

Naturally, you'll want to know how the day's developments looked at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network:

Donald Trump is taking issue with a speech at this week's Democratic National Convention by Muslim lawyer Khizr Khan, whose Army captain son was killed in action and who said on stage that Trump has “sacrificed nothing and no one" for America. But Democrats and advocates for veterans’ families say the Republican presidential nominee went too far in his response.

Khan made the comment during his tribute to his son, Humayun, who posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart after being killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004.

As Khan spoke, his wife Ghazala, Humayun’s mother, stood silently by his side.
Trump, during an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” said: "She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me."

And Trump challenged Khizr Khan’s claims about having sacrificed nothing. "I've made a lot of sacrifices,” Trump said. “I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures."

Some things really do speak for themselves.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Stop press!

Well done, Ecumenical News! I'm sure no one who saw the first two seasons could possibly have seen that coming.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

By the pricking of my thumbs ...

If you were The Associated Press, what do you figure would be a good Elongated Yellow Fruit reference for Anthony Weiner?

Weiner, who's attending his party's national convention in Philadelphia, was asked about the rumored Trump Jr. candidacy, and the cocksure former congressman playfully suggested he would end his political exile to take on the son of the equally brash Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul.

(h/t Merrill)

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Exclusive to this day

Have you ever wondered why so many of those massively important stories at Fox -- say, Saturday afternoon's top story, above -- don't end up leading the news the following day at the shamefaced librul media outlets that have ignored them? It could be the worldwide Marxist conspiracy, of course, but it also could be that lots of the stories that lead at Fox are simply made up.

Well, not technically made up. Here, Fox is relying on the Washington Free Beacon, which itself is rewriting the Washington Examiner, with this ultimate effect:

Secretary of State John Kerry said in Vienna on Friday that air conditioners and refrigerators are as big of a threat to life as the threat of terrorism posed by groups like the Islamic State.

The Washington Examiner reported that Kerry was in Vienna to amend the 1987 Montreal Protocol that would phase out hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, from basic household and commercial appliances like air conditioners, refrigerators, and inhalers.

Oh, come on -- get to the crazy part!

“As we were working together on the challenge of [ISIS] and terrorism,” Kerry said. “It’s hard for some people to grasp it, but what we–you–are doing here right now is of equal importance because it has the ability to literally save life on the planet itself.”

Or, if you scrape through the Fox/Beacon prose: Some things are as important as the challenge of ISIS. Addressing a threat in a different sector can be important without being as likely to ... gee, that set-to in Munich sure fell off the screen in a hurry once someone decided it wasn't "terrorism" any more. Squirrel! Or, in technical journalistic terms: Made-up story!

If you're a regular visitor here, you might be wondering: Fox leads the page with a fabricated story, and that's news exactly why? Well, because if you haven't joined the neighborhood scrap metal drive yet, it's time to wake up. If you're at the gym and Fox News is on the screen, laugh out loud at it. Remind your fellow toilers that Fox runs made-up stories at the behest of the dishonest to bend the opinions of the inattentive. Ridicule might not be the highest form of discourse, but it's a place to start.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Where the stupid starts

Wondering why The Stupid seems to be succeeding so well on the national stage? Let's ask the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll reports that 73% of the electorate believes the United States is on the wrong track, a level normally associated with national crises, such as the 2008 financial meltdown.

Reminding us, should we need reminding, that you don't have to lie about the numbers themselves to lie about public opinion. A 73% score on the bad side of the "right direction/wrong track" question is high but hardly unusual. It's not as extreme as the 79% that AP recorded at about the same time, nor is it as sunny as the 67% that Reuters found in a survey in the field July 16-20. If 73% represents the population value and neither of the other results is an outlier,* one thing that could tell you is that public opinion bounces around a lot on this question.

It can also bounce around pretty quickly, with a fairly rosy 58% saying "right direction" at the end of February 1991 (late stages of the first US-Iraq war) but "wrong track" reaching 72% in November, 78% in January 1992 and 83% in June 1992. "Wrong track" also reached 73% in June 2007 (per the Post, again) 76% in a CNN poll in August 2007 -- some months before the 2007-09 recession began. Being a grumpy lot, we were also at 79% "wrong track" in October 1990,** 77% in January 1996, 71% in June 1993 and just about equal in October 1974 (75%) and October 1973 (74%).

Well, surprise. People who are interested in public opinion try to find the stories that explain the numbers; WSJ editorial writers look for numbers to go with the stories they want to tell. So what story is being told here?

Amid the GOP convention in Cleveland and with the Democratic mother ship landing next week in Philadelphia, one has to wonder: Are the campaigns of  Donald Trump and  Hillary Clinton also on the wrong track?

As recently as a week ago, the election’s narrative was set: ... Then, just days before the GOP convention, the world snapped.

Got an idea of what comes next?
Read more »

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Burying the lede

When you take the devil's sixpence, sooner or later he's going to expect a dance -- say, the evening's No. 2 story at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network:

Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, responding to a report based on unnamed sources, Tuesday denied suggestions that he had sexually harassed anchor Megyn Kelly a decade ago.

His lawyer, Susan Estrich, said in a statement: “Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly. In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her to achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him.”

Here's the inside play:
For the most part, that looks like basic second-cycling: If the morning paper has "Fire destroys business," the afternoon paper gets "Firefighters sifted through the rubble today." Flip for a moment, though, to the last graf of the 503-word story:

The New York Times reported late Tuesday that Ailes and 21st Century Fox, now managed on a daily basis by Rupert Murdoch’s sons, James and Lachlan Murdoch, "are in the advanced stages of discussions that would lead to the departure of Mr. Ailes as chairman of Fox News.” While it is impossible to predict the outcome of negotiations, I can confirm that such discussions are under way.

Odd. The source in the Times's second graf is the same as in Fox's:

Mr. Ailes and 21st Century Fox, Fox News’s parent company, are in the advanced stages of discussions that would lead to his departure as chairman, Susan Estrich, one of Mr. Ailes’s lawyers, said in an interview on Tuesday.

To be perfectly clear: "Impossible" might be an overstatement, but predicting the outcome of negotiations is difficult enough that journalists should generally leave well enough alone. (The same is true of predicting political campaigns, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone at Fox.) Guessing at the outcomes of legal actions, even when they're aimed at reprehensible people, is silly and irresponsible. But since the boss's lawyer has already talked to the Times, it seems like a phone call to the boss's lawyer might be in order.
Writing about the boss is a challenge. You can spare a kind thought for Fox News if you'd like. Or not.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

X marks the pronoun

The Great Pronoun Meme by itself is no longer all that interesting (though I suppose we could start a pool on what sort of fictional trait might be demonstrated by pronoun frequency with a woman as chief executive). But it's still worth watching where the thing crops up and what new forms it takes, especially when it co-occurs with a new plaything like "Micah X." Here's the Daily Caller tale linked by Drudge above:
President Obama referred to himself 45 times over the course of the speech he delivered Tuesday at the memorial service for the five police officers killed in Dallas last week.

Obama referred to himself twice before finishing his opening salutations and before mentioning the slain officers or their families. After noting the presence of President Bush, members of Congress and Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings, Obama appeared to go off-script.

“Chief Brown, I’m so glad I met Michelle first because she loves Stevie Wonder,” Obama said, jokingly referencing Dallas Police Chief David Brown’s earlier speech in which Brown quoted lyrics from the song “As” in tribute to the deceased.

"Mentioning" and "referring to" himself are a bit of a new twist (though when we go to the scoreboard, it's going to be pretty much the same old pronoun count). What makes this one really distinctive is the opportunity for direct comparison with a white guy: George W. Bush, who also spoke at the event.

Obama: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Mr. President and Mrs. Bush, my friend the vice president, and Dr. Biden, Mayor Rawlings, Chief Stiller, clergy, members of Congress, Chief Brown. I’m so glad I met Michelle first, because she loves Stevie Wonder.

Bush: Thank you all. Thank you, Senator. I, too, am really pleased that President Obama and Mrs. Obama have come down to Dallas. I also want to welcome Vice President and Dr. Biden. Mr. Mayor, Chief Brown, elected officials, members of the law enforcement community.

You could note that Mr. Bush had "referred" to himself before even starting his "salutations," but there's a point at which -- to borrow from Geoff Pullum -- counting beans on the droolers' terms is just playing along with droolerism. With that in mind, let's go to the scoreboard.
Read more »

Monday, July 11, 2016

Of names and dog whistles

It's not even that original, you guys -- Drudge appears to have borrowed the "Micah X" theme from a weekend Sun cover. But it is another nice illustration of how to dog-whistle in a hed while keeping your feet just inside the chalk lines of news practice.

As noted last week, being a "headline name" means you're recognized for who you are (Trump eats babies) rather than where you live (Ferndale man eats babies) or go to school (Kansas sophomore eats babies). The perp in an especially heinous crime can move into that category pretty fast, though "McVeigh" is more likely to make the leap than "Johnson."

Given names follow an even tighter rule -- unless, of course, they sound like Muhammad. "Micah" is a little too ambiguous to make the cut, but what a lucky break for Drudge that the middle name was Xavier: hence, Micah X! (You know, like notorious Muslim bandleader X Cugat scary person Malcolm X.) "X" was so evocative that one of the downpage heds had to be tweaked as well:

Choosing X as a surname predates the 1960s; here's how the World's Greatest Newspaper described Elijah Muhammad and colleagues, arrested on sedition charges in a 1942 draft-evasion case (complete with Flying Verb subhed):

Assume Oriental Names

...Many of them have assumed oriental names and some of their followers use only "X" or "XX" as surnames.

The (ahem) Oriental influence is further explained:

Have Plenty Of Money
"We have only scratched the surface," said a federal official. "It seems certain that Japanese money has been going to these organizations. None of these people has any visible means of support. The 12 leaders we took into custody Sunday and Monday have lavish and expensive costumes and have plenty of money. Even their followers, some of whom are poorly dressed, seem to have some means."

In those days, kids, the deranged right didn't have Drudge to spread its light across the darkened plain, It had to rely on a secret network made up of the biggest papers in the country. 

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Some purge

OK, it's not nice to pick on individual spelling errors, and there but for the grace of God and all that. But all you kids who went into copyediting because you won the spelling bees in junior high? You can laugh at Fox now.

The inside hed and the link spell "perjury" right, which takes some of the fun out of things. But we can always start a pool on how long it takes to fix the homepage, or open the comments for a definition of "purgery." (Witch trials? Colonoscopy prep?)

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

America in peril!

So how is freedom under assault today, Drudge Report?

Tea Party activist Norm Novitsky’s In Search of Liberty, a crowdfunded feature film about the U.S. Constitution, has been shut down in Savannah, GA, after 30 members of his crew walked off the job. The group, made up mostly of students and recent graduates from the Savannah College of Art and Design, had been seeking union representation, living wages and reclassification as employees rather than independent contractors.

Never mind the verb voice in the first clause -- let's hear more about the particular pillar of freedom that the labor goons are eroding!

The film, which stars Food Network host Bobby Deen, son of reality star Paula Deen, bills itself as a “a straight-to-DVD release that tells the story of a captivating statesman from America’s past” who takes a present-day family on a series of wild adventures that “opens their eyes to the origins and importance of the U.S. Constitution, the degree to which it is under attack and what can be done to save it.”

So ... sort of the freeware version of Rush Revere and his talking horse?

The film’s crew had worked on the shoot for three weeks. Dissatisfied with their wages and working conditions, they approached IATSE for representation. They walked off the job en masse on July 2, and the producers shut down the film Thursday when they couldn’t find a replacement crew.

Good thing the employer always "offers" and the union always "demands" -- otherwise, we'd be stuck with a hed like Teabilly Filmmakers Halt Production As H'wood Glamour Fails To Pay The Rent, and that's never going to fit in a 1/36, let alone a narrative of union thuggery. 

What with the existential threat to freedom and all, it's unfortunate that the beleaguered filmmaker declines to comment, leaving the reporter to recite pesky details:

... IATSE has filed unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming union reps were subjected to threats and acts of intimidation during their efforts to organize the workers. A member of the crew is scheduled to present evidence Monday to the wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor that crew members were not paid minimum wages and did not receive overtime pay.

Given that somewhere around 40% of the country seems to hope a Dean Trump would revoke the little hoodlums' charter, one hopes for coverage of the hearing.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Thanks, liberal media!

Just a suggestion for the Foremost Newspaper of the Carolinas: One reason the now-famous tweet "appears" to depict a Star of David is that it actually does depict a Star of David.

There's actually quite a bit of undue seeming out there, as evidenced by this from the Indianapolis Star:

An entry in Sheridan's Independence Day Parade included what many are calling a racist depiction of President Obama in a toilet and the words "Lying African."

And did it occur to anyone to suggest that maybe "many are calling" the mini-float a "racist depiction" because, you know, it is?

There is, of course, the obligatory comment from the driver:

Driver said he is tired of political correctness and was just trying to be funny. The display was not intended to be racist, he said. Driver  agreed that others have a right to be offended, just as he has the right to express his views.

"I apologize to anyone I offended, which would be a total liberal. I have my right to say things," Driver said. "Isn't that what the Fourth of July's about? Freedom."

The Trump defense is if anything more amusing (though not surprising, given how few alarm bells "America First" seems to have rung in his campaign). Should you have missed it, here's the offending tweet and its replacement, as provided at CNN:

Hence this summary:

Trump rejected the Clinton campaign's accusations that his tweet was anti-Semitic by slamming "false attacks" and insisting the star represented a sheriff's badge.
"These false attacks by Hillary Clinton trying to link the Star of David with a basic star, often used by sheriffs who deal with criminals and criminal behavior, showing an inscription that says 'Crooked Hillary is the most corrupt candidate ever' with anti-Semitism is ridiculous," Trump said in the statement.
And the official it-ain't-official-until-it's-on-Twitter tweet:
Weird as it sounds, some of us didn't grow up associating the Shield of David with the "Sheriff's Star."  Nor does it seem to be what the Florida Sheriffs Association had in mind for the homepage of The Sheriffs Star, or what you'd find on the homepage of Sheriff's Star Charities over in the Panhandle. It's tempting to wonder whether someone just made that up.

The larger point, though, is what journalists do with the evidence provided by their own eyes.  North Carolina's funny-looking foreign motto, after all, is "to be, rather than to seem." Maybe we should do Mr. Trump the courtesy of acknowledging that he fits the bill.

News pragmatics: As heads is tails

A lot of the underlying rules of journalism are pretty clear, even if we don't spell them out in the textbooks.* You might never have written a headline in your life, but you can tell when somebody bollixes the assumptions about how proper names work in heds,  because that's how you've been brought along. "McDonnell arrested" (or Obama, or Snyder, or Scalia, or Yastrzemski) in a headline doesn't mean Jim-Bob McDonnell down the block has been shooting bottle rockets at passing cars again, because he'd be "local man" or "OCC student" (or "Harvard graduate," or "failed entrepreneur," or "crazed Vietnam veteran," or any of the other social/occupational categories we have at hand). The name means it's somebody you already know.

First names are similar, though the social land mines are more concealed. Your "everybody calls her Hillary!" might run into a "well, I don't," or it might not. But generally, when you see a given name in a hed, it's because someone assumes a Lebron-like level of mutual understanding:
Because when a workplace dispute goes bad -- how's that again, Fox10?
A Walmart employee upset over a missed promotion took his manager and another employee hostage Tuesday before he was fatally shot by police, according to the Amarillo Police Department.
... the first hed you'd write is "Dave from Lubbock shot dead," right?
Hence, of course, the Drudge hed from Monday morning at top (the "Mohammad" play was June 14; see if you can figure out why). You're not supposed to wonder whether this Khan is Genghiz, or Samir, or Irving; it's a Khan, and it's plotting terrorism! Whether the plot involved oh, flying a single-engine plane into a federal building is irrelevant; beauty is truth, and truth Khan, and GAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
So if you're wondering whether there's any evidence that the party press is openly, deeply, fundamentally racist -- of course there is. That's kind of how things work.

* Because then we couldn't tell whether you knew the secret handshakes, could we?

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Monday, July 04, 2016

When you care enough ...

... to send the very best:

The GOP official heading the RNC's permanent Rules Committee agrees.

"I wasn't a Trump supporter to begin with," Bruce Ash says while explaining why he sent a letter (link to letter here, i will include a pdf attachment to my email) calling on his fellow members to take a firm stand against the dump Trump campaign.

Really, check out the whole thing (it is the afternoon's No. 2 story, after all). From the commas alone, you may want to hold those calls in the Most Completely Unlooked-At File of the Year. competition.

* I think the total is about correct, but they have left undone things that ought to have been done and have done things that ought not to have been done Amen.

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Saturday, July 02, 2016

Bet he didn't

OK. You change the batteries in your calculator every few months because if your mom says she loves you, you need to know if she means at p < .05 or if her love merely approaches statistical significance and she probably prefers your little brother. And, of course, for this:

During a prayer meeting-Bible study in the First Baptist sanctuary, 30 or so members prayed for Trump after one of them brought up a report that Trump had recently become a “born-again” Christian. The source of the story was Dobson, who has since dubbed Trump a “baby Christian.”

.... Among those praying: Your Name Here, 97, of Charlotte, a First Baptist member since 1942 who said he voted for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas – the top choice of evangelicals – in North Carolina’s GOP primary.

So naturally it's time for a telling detail:

But now Here, who cast his first vote for president in 1936, is ready to go with Trump. “He’s probably a blowhard, but I think he has some good ideas,” Here said. “He is saying what I think a majority of people want to hear ... and I think he would do a good job picking judges.”

If he was born in late July 1918, then yes -- he would have turned 18 in time for the 1936 election. And would have turned 21 in plenty of time to vote in 1940.  When you have a chance to talk politics with folks that age, it's rude to be too skeptical, but you're not excused from doing the math.

In general, it'd be nice if stories of this sort were more inquisitive -- if sources who express concern about "Clinton’s record on Benghazi" had a chance to explain how that record differed from Fox News's, for example. Big details build on small ones, and the election is actually approaching.

Read more here:

Read more here:

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Zombie report: Stop and smell the algae

Remember all those hyphens you saved in "high school student" and "ice cream cone"? You could spare one for your zombie friends here. Or -- here's a thought -- simply unstack the modifiers.