Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The death of irony

You can tell why this is the No. 3 story at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network this evening. It's got everything: anti-Trump bias, happy ending and Muslims Behaving Badly!

New York City college student Yasmin al-Scaryname who claimed to be the victim of a hate crime by Trump supporters is under arrest and charged with filing a false report, a police source told The New York Daily News.

The 18-year-old al-Scaryname caused quite the media stir with her sensationalized account of Trump supporters attacking her on the subway. She claimed three men attempted to pull off her hijab while calling her a terrorist and yelling Trump’s name. All this happened, she said, while New Yorkers sat idly by and watched her get assaulted.

Fun fact of journalism: You can tell more about news practice from how the rules are broken* than from how the rules are followed. "Don't convict 'em in the hed" is a powerful and universally followed rule, because breaking it can have practical consequences as well as ethical ones. If you declare the suspect Guilty Guilty Guilty on Monday and charges are Dropped Dropped Dropped on Thursday, you have some explaining to do if the erstwhile suspect demands to know why your professional negligence allowed a false and defamatory statement onto the front page. Breaking the rule is a calculated risk.

The ethics part, as usual, is more entertaining. Declaring yourself Fair 'n' Balanced means your starting position is not to take sides: Innocent until proven guilty, let's hear both sides, and no matter how loud the crowd gets, the headline is Smallville Loses Heartbreaker, not Blind Ump Costs Our Town Title. You only get to break that rule when there's a higher good to be served.

Stop the tape for a moment to give credit to Heat Street, one of the many parajournalistic sites that provide the sort of content Fox doesn't have the time or attention span to write on its own. Although the entertaining syntax may belong to someone else, the moral conclusion in the hed is Fox's:

The many media outlet’s initial reporting of the fake hate crime did not include qualifiers like “alleged” and “claimed.” Instead they reported the hoax crime as a fact like with Buzzfeed’s story, “Drunk Men Yelling “Donald Trump” Attempt To Remove Woman’s Hijab On NYC Subway.”

OMG Buzzfeed left the attribution out of a headline! Does the Pulitzer committee know about this?

* That's "broken," as opposed to "didn't get the memo about 'Christmas came early' and the last copy editor was furloughed after Thanksgiving." If you want to chart the structure of power in the newsroom, look for stories in which the subjects are known by first name, rather than family name, on second reference; that writer usually outranks most of the editors.

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