Friday, October 27, 2017

The party press: Circular firing squad

The "buh-buh-buh-HILLARY!" storm hasn't quite blown over yet -- the top story at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network is still "Pressure mounts on Mueller to resign over FBI ties to dossier scandal"* -- but the evening's No. 2 story introduces an entertaining twist:

The opposition research project that ultimately produced the controversial Trump-Russia dossier was initially backed by the conservative Washington Free Beacon website, it was revealed** late Friday.

Free Beacon editor Matthew Continetti said in a statement that the publication had retained Fusion GPS to "provide research on multiple candidates in the [2016] Republican presidential primary," as well as Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Continetti's statement denied that the Free Beacon "had contact with, knowledge of, or provided payment for any work performed by Christopher Steele," the former British spy who produced the now-infamous dossier. 

So who did all the revelating, anyway?

... Free Beacon's connection with Fusion GPS was first reported by the Washington Examiner. According to the Examiner's report, lawyers for the Free Beacon told the House Intelligence Committee that the website funded the opposition research project between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2016.

At some point after that, Fusion GPS was retained by Mark Elias, an attorney representing the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. Fusion GPS then hired Steele to compile the dossier.

Hard to tell about "first reported" -- the Examiner's report says 6:47 p.m., and I don't see a time stamp on the Times's version, which is sourced to "people briefed on the conversation." (One of the reporters involved tweeted a link to it an hour ago, by Twitter's reckoning, which would be around 7:20, and the Free Beacon's non-apology was posted at 7:02.) But either way, we have Fox fronting a report by one right-wing outlet calling out an even more reprehensible right-wing outfit, about which process you have to admit there's a certain charm. Back to Fox:

... "We stand by our reporting, and we do not apologize for our methods," Continetti added. "We consider it our duty to report verifiable information, not falsehoods or slander, and we believe that commitment has been well demonstrated by the quality of the journalism that we produce."

Can't wait to see what comes around on the guitar next.

Anyway, if you don't keep up with outfits like the Free Beacon, here's its editor a few months ago, holding forth on The Media at the National Review:
Pro tip? If you can't "separate the signal from the noise" in survey research, you shouldn't be writing about it in the first place.

* The tamer inside hed, "Mueller facing new Republican pressure to resign in Russia probe," demonstrates yet again that verb voice isn't the only thing affecting the demonstration of agency in headlines.
** The dummy-subject passive strikes me as especially British; UK visitors, is this the natural way of handling the attribution here?

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Today in causality

Conspiracy theories are always bigger on the inside at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network:

Almost immediately after the Warren Commission in 1964 ruled that Oswald had been the lone gunman, conspiracy theories began to circulate over whether or not he had been the only shooter and if the CIA had been involved in the Kennedy assassination.

But before authorities were able to fully question Oswald, the former U.S. Marine was shot and killed on Nov. 24, 1963, by Texas nightclub owner Jack Ruby – adding more fuel to the speculative fire that the U.S. government was hiding what it knew about the assassination.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Twitter as speech act

You've probably noticed in recent months that Fox's frontpage story selection looks a lot like the good old days of the authoritarian press: Whatever the Big Man is doing is good enough us. 

The Monday page has a bit of a twist, though. The Big Man's morning Twitter outburst is given a performative effect in the No. 2 and No. 4* stories. At upper right, it manages to quash fears all by itself (the public apparently having learned to take him at his word). And at lower right -- kids, that's why we still teach the stuff about "refute" and "rebut." On the weekend's developments, the Times saved "refute" for when it works: "After Video Refutes Kelly's Charges, Congresswoman Raises Issue of Race." Even Fox is tamer on the inside; Trump merely "denies Army widow's claim he struggled to remember soldier's name."

It's probably always been true that Twitter could have an illocutionary function. If you're going to declare that "a state of war exists with Freedonia," there's no particular reason it has to be on radio rather than Twitter. It's kind of neat to see the perlocutionary function laid out as well.

* The new design usually has a top story, with four featured below it. It's more Fox for the buck!

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Outrage and nothingness

Breakthrough in transatlantic headline relations! Fox advances the British existential hed to the point of nothingness: an Outrage As story with zero outrage.

The existential is one of those bits of national headline dialect that look bizarre to the non-native speaker but usually aren't out-and-out misleading. (There are exceptions: "Anger at Lockerbie bomber welcome," for example.) Just stick a "There is ..." at the front of the headline and things are fairly easy to follow. It's common on some registers of the UK press:

Outrage as politician uses Auschwitz gas chamber as "stage" in "obscene" video message 'for America'

Outrage as nuclear power station holds bikini contest with cooling tower photo shoot to choose new intern

Outrage as Ryanair axes 2,000 flights to boost punctuality

Outrage as New York school tells students they should masturbate to avoid carrying out sex attacks on nights out

Read more »

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Elongated yellow Hormel product

The only Elongated Yellow Fruit reference in the text of this Post masterpiece is to "the Hormel product." But surely the headline gets bonus points for "the wildly popular 'mystery meat.'"

Should you wonder how far the gospel of "omit needless words" has fallen? No, don't:

Elsewhere on the island at about the same time, three women loaded up shopping carts at a Long’s drugstore with 18 cases of — you guessed it — Spam. They made a rush for the exit.  Fortunately, an alert customer, Pleasedon't Embarrassmefurther, saw the attempted heist in progress, stationed himself at the door on Spam patrol and stopped them in their tracks. They shoved the carts toward at him and took off, Embarrassmefurther told KITV4.

Could you go on? Of course. But eventually, you'll find yourself asking whether the story itself is one long string of needless words.

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Agenda-setting and wishful thinking

If you've heard one thing about agenda-setting, it's the summary that McCombs and Shaw borrowed from Bernard Cohen's "The press and foreign policy": Media accounts aren't very effective at telling you what to think, but they're really good at telling you what to think about. Cohen's next line, though, is worth bearing in mind as well:

"It follows from this that the world looks different to different people, depending not only on their personal interests but also on the map that is drawn for them by the writers, editors and publishers of the papers they read."

Planet Fox might seem like a strange place from outside, then, with its eight methane-powered suns and its greisly fauna, but that's because you're not using the right map. To the natives, the day's most super-important top story makes perfect sense, particularly if you look at the inside headline or the html: melania-trump-cuts-bloated-first-lady-payroll-from-michelle-obama-days.html. Likewise, nothing too unusual about the redtop-style existential hed on the second story (also bigger on the inside: clinton-pitbull-media-attack-kelly-after-gold-star-general-defends-trump-condolence-call.html). 

We're slipping a bit farther from strict reality, though, in that the only outrage mentioned in the 666*-word story is directed toward Rep. Wilson, not "the media,"** and it comes from the president and the ineffable Sheriff Clarke. But Fox does (if obliquely) acknowledge that Gen. Kelly outright lied about Rep. Wilson during his appearance.

The fun one, I think, is the Anything But Russia story in the No. 3 position.*** Here, the homepage hed with the "infamous Clinton tarmac meeting" is most at odds with the inside hed ("Lynch meets with House investigators on Russia, ignores questions on Clinton") and the html version ("lynch-meets-with-house-investigators-amid-questions-on-russia-clinton"). Not to mention, sad to say, the story itself:

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch met with members of the House Intelligence Committee on Friday as part of the probe looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Lynch is one of several former Obama officials who have been called to Congress for closed-door questioning over the Russia accusations.

But sources**** close to the investigation told Fox News that questions over her infamous tarmac meeting with President Bill Clinton also may have been on the agenda. That June 27, 2016 meeting with Clinton on an airport tarmac in Phoenix raised questions about whether Lynch – or the Justice Department – could be impartial in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Apparently we're not even sure that the questions were on the agenda, let alone in the grill itself. So whence the "amid questions"?

Lynch ignored three questions from Fox News’ Catherine Herridge Friday morning on Capitol Hill, in reference to those issues.

Got it!

Anyway, the cluttery format that introduced last month has made the agenda-setting part harder to track. But it certainly hasn't dampened the fun with the headlines.

* Stuff just writes itself sometimes, doesn't it? This is the count I get with MS Word.

** Assuming that the "former Clinton spokesman" quoted in the text is the "Clinton pitbull," that means "the media" are represented by one dude at MSNBC. Just in case you're scoring along at home.
*** Just wondering here -- do you suppose there's some, oh, unifying demographic characteristic of the targets of Fox's derision in the afternoon's top three stories?
**** Pesky sources! 

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Grammar and the party press

Shouldn't be a surprise that the lead story this afternoon at the Formerly Fair 'n' Balanced Network was another tweet from Massster. But we should be a little more careful with the syntax, don't you think?
Seems to me that in the Fox hed, both "failing" and "New York Times" are trying to modify "reporter." But that hardly seems to be where the tweet is going, nor yet the lede:

President Trump on Sunday criticized a New York Times story stating that he has failed to fulfill campaign promises on undoing key Obama administration policies, calling the newspaper “failing” and pointing to early successes like exiting the international Paris climate accord and getting conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

Fox, of course, has a bigger mission at hand:

... Baker is The Times’ chief White House correspondent and is billed as a straight-news reporter.

Last month, the newspaper published a Baker story titled, “A Divider, Not a Uniter, Trump Widens the Breach,” that reads like what could be considered an opinion piece.

Baker referred to  Trump as an “apostle of anger” and “deacon of divisiveness,” before noting that the president’s recent comments about athletes protesting the national anthem “distract from other matters, particularly Congress’ efforts on health care reform."

When reached by Fox News, Baker defended his comments as “analysis rather than opinion,” referring to it as “an observation” based on covering Trump for the past eight months.

The Times did not respond when Fox News asked if Baker is still considered a straight-news reporter.

... Trump has previously referred to the Times as “failing,” and many media watchdogs feel liberal bias is showing.

There's a shirttail for Brian Flood, who appears to be the new hand on the Bias Alert beat. He certainly seems to be developing a distinctive style.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Everything old is new again

Fans of the America First movement -- the original or its 21st-century incarnation -- might get a kick out of this, from the World's Greatest Newspaper, July 1944.

I'm especially fond of "Little Tom Thumb Dewey," but there's also a certain amount of prescience in "Four years from now the Dewey-Willkie international clique will be dead ducks and a great America First party will name and elect a President. Then we will have freedom in America."

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Monday, October 09, 2017

Flying verbs: A user's manual

Friends of the Flying Verb, rejoice: Now there's a journalism textbook to explain it all for you! Assuming you're on track to graduate in 1943, at least.

Under the subhead "Implied subject," here's how Radder & Stempel's "Newspaper Editing, Make-Up and Headlines"* introduces the example above:

The subject may not be expressed in the first deck. It may be implied in the first deck and expressed immediately in the second, provided it is the first word in the second deck. ... Some editors consider it bad form to run headlines in which the first deck has an implied subject.

The book cautions against using the flyer "if the verb might be understood to be in the imperative mode," and the examples have plural implied subjects: "Hear Bible Scholar" and "Rob Los Angeles Bank" (followed by "Pair Flees in Automobile"):

A few newspapers have a rule against beginning any headline with a verb, holding that even the third-person singular form might be confused with the imperative.

The section on writing heds about speeches fits the specification exactly:
... though many, if not most, shops that employed the Flying Verb were far more flexible. Here's the World's Greatest Newspaper, reporting on the dustup that eventually became Terminiello** v. Chicago:
The deck is "Three policemen injured outside hall"; I have trouble seeing them as the subject of "seize."

UK readers will be happy to know that there's also a justification for claim quotes, also from the section on reporting about speeches:
When the thought to be expressed is too long to go into the first bank with the name, some newspapers permit the copyreader to enclose the speaker's statement in quotation marks and let it stand alone in the first deck. The words need not necessarily be the exact words of the speaker. If they are not, the quotation mark merely indicates that someone made the statement.

Further insights on the flyer, or formal guidance for the art of the claim quote, always welcome. Thanks to Michael Fuhlhage*** for the loan of the textbook.

* Second edition, published in 1942. The first, in 1924, was called "Newspaper Headlines and Make-Up." Radder was a former NYT rimrat who taught at Indiana; Stempel, a student when the first edition was coming together, put in some time at the New York Sun and elsewhere before joining the academic ranks.
** "Self-styled Father Coughlin of the South," as the Trib put it.
*** The one, the only, the coiner of the phrase "Donner Party comma" for the comma of direct address ("Let's eat, Grandma").

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Sunday, October 01, 2017

Pesky grammar

Hey, kids! Who wants to be first to diagram this headless relative clause from the Washington Times?

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Islamic terrorists and a National Review columnist, asked in a recent column how a probe created to explore any Trump-Russia collusion became what amounts to a large federal task force throwing all of its considerable power against one man who worked only briefly for the candidate.

As is so often the case, the grammar that gets you in trouble isn't "bad" grammar; it's perfectly "correct" grammar that's correct about more than one thing.

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