Saturday, June 03, 2017

Editing: Ur doin it wrong

In the wake of the Times's decision to sue for armistice in the War on Editing, the above presentation from the Washington Post's Friday afternoon e-newsletter is worth a moment's reflection.

Granted,* a straight-up-the-middle fact check of the Orange Peril's random babbling on Thursday about the Paris climate accord is a laudable journalistic mission, even if it overlooks the really entertaining stuff. For instance, the Orange Peril's decision to begin his remarks by addressing a terrorist attack that even his pet news outlet doesn't think is a terrorist attack:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila. We’re closely monitoring the situation, and I will continue to give updates if anything happens during this period of time. But it is really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected.

And then -- it gets better! -- to continue by boasting about the economy without waiting for (ahem) the real monthly numbers to come in:

Before we discuss the Paris Accord, I’d like to begin with an update on our tremendous — absolutely tremendous — economic progress since Election Day on November 8th. The economy is starting to come back, and very, very rapidly. We’ve added $3.3 trillion in stock market value to our economy, and more than a million private sector jobs.

But his real purpose was to lie about the Paris accord:

... This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement — they went wild; they were so happy — for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage. A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound. We would find it very hard to compete with other countries from other parts of the world.

And that's the sort of adolescent whining that should cause the ears of a good fact-checker to perk up. And the Fact Checker's** ears do:

In his speech announcing his decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change, President Trump frequently relied on dubious facts and unbalanced claims to make his case that the agreement would hurt the U.S. economy. Notably, he only looked at one side of the scale — claiming the agreement left the United States at a competitive disadvantage, harming U.S. industries. But he often ignored the benefits that could come from tackling climate change, including potential green jobs.

Which is good as far as it goes (despite failing to point out that the Orange Peril is a lying shitbird of epic proportion). What it doesn't explain is why you should follow your actual fact-checking effort with a separate story claiming that the speech "needs a serious fact check." Could you not, at long last, simply read your own paper?

If I could mash up the wisdom of Bill Walsh and my favorite article of the year so far in the Journal of Media Ethics: An algorithm is not an editor. Sometimes you need to close a browser and think.

* I'd say "it goes without saying," but I'm a life rimrat, and nothing in a newspaper "goes without saying," ever, period.
** Despite its occasional incompetence on matters like BENGHAZI!!!!!

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