Monday, February 22, 2021

You 'kids' and your 'abbreviations'


Before we roll our eyes too hard at Those Kids and What They're Doing To Our Words, it's always fun to dig into the archives -- here, your 1941 San Francisco Examiner -- and see how things looked in the past.

Why is "gas" in quotes in the Oct. 22 business section but quoteless in the news section on the same day? Probably not a fight between desks. The top hed refers to real gas, see -- the kind that's used to run factories. The "gas" in the second hed is that stuff autoists put in their autos. 

If you used your i'Phone to schedule a time for your 'flu shot, you might not be too surprised at the 'chute escape described below. And, yes, getting in the local university angle is like getting the dog's name -- by the time you're qualified to work for Hearst,* you're expected to know that kind of stuff.

 * Warren Breed, author of "Social control in the newsroom" (1955) and a former Hearst reporter, described this phenomenon in an interview for a journal article much later: Nobody had to tell you when a story should begin "Bands playing and flags flying...", because you already knew


Thursday, February 04, 2021

Battle for the top


How do you pick the most Foxalicious story of a fairly ordinary day (Thursday, for example). Where do you even start? 

Could it be this classic "under fire" take from around 8:30 a.m.?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is facing criticism over initial claims she made about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, with many noting that she wasn't even in the Capitol when it occurred.

The controversy erupted after the New York congresswoman posted a video in which she described a confrontation with Capitol Police at her office, which is located on the larger Capitol complex. But it is not in the Capitol itself — which includes the dome, the House, and the Senate — and was where many rioters stormed in and were seen breaking windows.

Her office is located in the Cannon building, which is accessible through underground tunnels connected to the Capitol as well as via a short stroll down a walkway and across the street. It was also one of the buildings where staff was told to evacuate after suspicious packages were found in the area. Law enforcement found pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails in the vicinity.

Clearly worth the No. 2 spot of the morning, right?

... On Wednesday, she faced a wave of backlash. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., also blasted
media coverage, tweeting that insurrectionists never stormed the hallway that she shares with Ocasio-Cortez. The hashtag #AlexandriaOcasioSmollet trended, an apparent comparison to actor Jussie Smollett, who falsely claimed to be the victim of a hate crime.

To be fair, assorted Fox allies tried to get several hashtags trending, including the misspelled one highlighted downpage the previous evening. But as a Fox reader, you didn't really need the prompt, did you?

Or could the day's Foxiest story be the discovery, around 3 p.m., that those Endless Wars the previous administration was always ending are a pretty good idea after all?

President Biden announced Thursday that the U.S. will end its support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen against Houthi rebels, as part of a new foreign policy outlook by the new administration.

"This war has to end, and to underscore our commitment we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales," Biden said.

Earlier, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan pointed to the stopping of two arms sales of precision-guided munitions that were moving forward under the last administration as an example.

Nice, but I'm going with the story that broke into the No. 3 spot around 8:30:

Though the numbers aren’t public, Hunter Biden was likely paid big bucks for his new book deal. 

The tale of Hunter Biden’s experience with drug addiction will "likely" earn the president’s son a number in the "high six figures," a book industry source told Fox News. 

Fox News has reached out to Simon & Schuster for confirmation. 

...Sources tell the Daily Mail Hunter likely received an advance as high as $2 million and could earn millions more if he allows his life story to be filmed. 

This is actually Fox's third story of the day on the alleged memoir but the first to omit this crucial sideswipe:

Hunter Biden's book will be published by Simon & Schuster, the same publishing house that dropped Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., from a book deal over Hawley's objection to the certification of electoral votes from Pennsylvania. The protest of the votes led to a pro-Trump mob attacking the U.S. Capitol.

The final effort required the efforts of three Fox staffers (one in the byline, two in the shirttail), Considering that the main point of a Foxclusive like this seems to be getting the commenters riled up -- at this writing, it takes all of five reader comments to get to SOROS!11!!1!!!1!1!!!!!1!!! -- one wonders whether if wouldn't have been easier just to take the wire story and give everybody the evening off.

Friday, January 29, 2021

King to puppet


If you're not careful, you could spend the entire day writing about the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, but the salmon isn't going to roast itself, so here's a brief look at The Day In Biden on the Fox homepage. 

The left-hand tale (both are from the No. 3 position), around 10:30 a.m., suggests that your place on the monarchy-to-republic scale depends largely on who you are:

Biden’s orders have stopped construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border; reversed the ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military; reversed Trump’s travel ban on mostly Muslim countries; rejoined the World Health Organization, after Trump withdrew last year amid the pandemic; rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, after Trump withdrew; restored the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in full, which Trump sought to get rid of; rolled back Trump environmental policies, like scrapping the contract for the Keystone XL Pipeline, and more.

By 5:30 p.m. or so, it's clear who's really in charge:

Advocates for the Green New Deal have praised the Biden administration for its early moves to address climate change, taking a victory lap after the president signed a slew of sweeping executive orders targeting the environment.

The array of directives that Biden signed include pausing new federal oil leases, rejoining the Paris climate agreement, eliminating lucrative subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, revoking permits for the Keystone XL Pipeline and converting the government's fleet of vehicles to electric power.

Again, if you're scoring along with your J2100 textbook and wondering about that news value of timeliness, the "have praised" is a little puzzling -- since most of the story is based on some two-day-old tweets from the usual suspects, it's hard to see why this couldn't have been ready in time to head off the coronation. But at least we've managed to get AOC on the front again.

The biggest difference between Fox's news side and Fox's commentary side since the Peaceful Transfer of Power, at least to date, seems to be that the news side thinks Biden was elected president. (I'm almost willing to predict that the website is also more likely to break the "fourth wall" -- to lean over and tell you what it really thinks -- over the past week, but that awaits more thorough testing.) Compared with the heavy lifting that both sides are doing for the party, any differences are really quite minor.

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Monday, January 25, 2021

I'm not asking you who's on second

You might be wondering -- since Fox apparently made up its mind fairly early in November that Chavez and Soros and HILLARY!!111!1!1!!1!!1!!! didn't actually conspire to rig the election -- what things look like over on the Fair 'n' Balanced website these days. The short answer is more or less the way they always did. Enjoy, for example, the lead story from last Friday:

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., believes President Biden killing the Keystone XL pipeline shows he’s putting "Saudi Arabia first," not American workers.

"It looks like he cares more about workers in Saudi Arabia than the workers in America," Daines said on "America's Newsroom." 

Classic Fox, in that it's a single-source story of the tedious sort: not an assertion of fact built off one background comment and waiting for confirmation, but one person offering an opinion about policy effects. Even though it took two staffers to assemble, there's none of the comment-policy-countercomment-background from which news is usually built from talk-show appearances. (Though to Fox's credit, it's at least cribbing from its own work here, rather than that of the professional networks.)

 Note also that it's a bit behind the times (that pesky news value of "timeliness") -- the event happened Wednesday, but it's not a lead story until someone puts it into the "foreigners first" perspective for you. Compare that with the Monday lead story:

Americans still waiting on coronavirus relief, including stimulus checks, from the federal government may be surprised to learn that President Biden is reportedly offering $4 billion to Central American countries for development.

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Saturday that Biden told him the U.S. would send $4 billion to help development in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — nations whose hardships have spawned tides of migration through Mexico toward the United States.

Fox needed four staffers and a boost from the AP to put together this eight-paragraph story (including the obligatory "Fox News' inquiry to the White House was not immediately returned"), and given the number of plates that need to be kept spinning, you can see why:

Biden wants a massive plan that includes $20 billion to accelerate vaccine distribution, a $15-an-hour minimum wage increase, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits through the end of September, a one-time $1,400 stimulus check, a temporary expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit and $350 billion in new funding for state and local governments.

Biden promised that border wall building won't continue under his administration, and critics say his immigration stance encourages Central American migrants to cross the border illegally. Earlier in January, a caravan of thousands of migrants clashed with Guatemalan authorities while continuing to trek toward the U.S. border, according to reports.

Former President Donald Trump threatened to cut aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for "doing nothing" about migrant caravans in 2019 after pledging to give them billions in 2018. Months later, Trump announced the aid the was restored after the countries reached immigration agreements with the U.S.

So if you can't tell who's on second, billionswise, it's because who is on first.

Fox, to at least its partial credit, didn't go for what seems to have become known as the Big Lie. Given the state of the numbers, that wasn't a really difficult call -- partly because Fox's stock in trade was always the myriad Little Lies it could spread in favor of its friends and against its enemies. Given the state of demand in the marketplace of ideas, it's hard to see how or why that would change.

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Thursday, January 07, 2021

How Fox tells the story

You could spend a week with the Boy Scout Handbook trying to unravel the knots that the Fair 'n' Balanced Network has tied itself in just over the past 32 hours, so let's content ourselves with looking at a couple of handy Fox storytelling techniques in this presentation from around 6:15 p.m. Thursday. 

 In the lead story, we have an illustration of the first-day-of-editing-class rule that the best place to look for a headline is the first independent clause of the lede. The Mouth of Sauron gave a briefing to condemn the "appalling, reprehensible" violence, and there we are. Contrast that with the story in the No. 2 position. The hed's entirely true: Biden does indicate that BLM protesters would have been treated differently, but that shows up in the ninth graf, more than halfway into a 710-word story.

If you're a Fox reader, of course, "What about unity?" makes perfect sense, because a different theme -- Democrat hypocrisy -- is why the story is on the front page. Unity, or the more general idea of a campaign pledge to be a unifier, doesn't appear anywhere in the story, which spends a lot of time on the 25th Amendment, but unity doesn't have to be mentioned. You don't need to say "Goldstein" to run the Two Minute Hate. And for you doubters, of course it's objective; aren't the first two words "President-elect"? (If you're interested in how news organizations invest a zero-sum resource like time, this story has four contributors: one named in the byline and three in the shirttail.)

The overall "well, he started it" theme continues with the No. 4 story, because it's never too early to point out that the liberal media hate you and everything you stand for. This one's by a Fox "senior editor," not one of the regular media critics, but it has the formula down. Cite the offending statement:

"Look at them, they’re high-fiving each other for this deplorable display of completely unpatriotic, completely against law and order, completely unconstitutional behavior, it’s stunning," he said. "And they’re going to go back, you know, to the Olive Garden and to the Holiday Inn they’re staying at, and the Garden Marriott, and they’re going to have some drinks and they're going to talk about the great day they had in Washington ... They stood up for nothing other than mayhem."

... quote a few offended randos on Twitter, and always conclude with a no-comment:

A spokesperson for Olive Garden did not respond to requests for comment.

But the No. 5 story is the real classic. The top story was a straight-ahead who-what-where off a news conference, but this one lets Fox show some initiative on behalf of the Dear Leader (six Fox staffers contribute, with an added credit for The AP, to the 465-word text):

Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen vowed that pro-Trump rioters who entered the U.S. Capitol would "face the full consequences of their actions under the law," and those consequences could include being charged under President Trump's executive order authorizing up to 10 years in prison for "injury of federal property."

"Our criminal prosecutors have been working throughout the night with special agents and investigators from the U.S. Capitol Police, FBI, ATF, Metropolitan Police Department and the public to gather the evidence, identify perpetrators and charge federal crimes where warranted," Rosen said in a statement on Thursday.

Isn't that exactly what Dear Leader told his cult it would do the day before? 

They’ll knock out Lincoln too, by the way. They’ve been taking his statue down, but then we signed a little law. You hurt our monuments, you hurt our heroes, you go to jail for 10 years and everything stopped. Did you notice that? It stopped. It all stopped.

There is a slight problem if you hang on for the sixth graf:

... Rosen did not reference the executive order, which Trump signed in June after protesters targeted historic monuments and statues in the wake of George Floyd's death.


Now, the lede doesn't technically credit Rosen with the line about the executive order; that's in a separate independent clause. But news writing has a bad habit of dropping a comma in where it wants to mark another complementized clause (blame the craftwide belief that "that" is invariably a Needless Word), so it's genuinely hard to pin down on the first go. 

One could go on, but Fox is busy doing more stuff.




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Friday, January 01, 2021

Today in ledes

Ledes were different in the old days:

Globular little Howard C. Hopson, once the high-pressure head of the billion-dollar Associated Gas & Electric System and now, at 58, a neurotic hypochondriac, was convicted yesterday of grubbing $20,000,000 from the pockets of his company's 7000,000 shareholders.

New York Daily News, Jan. 1, 1941


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Another fabricated Fox story

 You almost -- maybe, for a moment -- want to feel a twinge of sympathy for the Fair 'n' Balanced Network. The cult of the orange monkey-god has taken up the chant of "Fox News Sucks," but aside from its daring decision to call the enemy candidate the "president-elect," Fox hasn't changed a thing about story selection, sourcing, framing or (ahem, you know) out-and-out fabrication from its days as the president's tame pet.

Tuesday morning's lead story is a fine example. We're promised at the top of the homepage that "'unprecedented' droves" of Californians are planning some kind of "blitz," apparently involving "change of residences," in hopes of tilting the two Senate runoffs in Stalin's direction -- hence the "stern legal warning." On the story itself, the hed is softer, but the deck less ambiguous, blitzwise:

The general rules of headline writing suggest that somewhere in the text, that "vast number" and their intent will be spelled out. The lede is often considered a good place to start looking:

A host of California residents and California-based political organizations are prepared to descend on Georgia to campaign for two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates whose victory would have profound implications for the direction of the country.

Well, that's a bit of a disappointment on the election-fraud front (though we do find out who's doing the actual reporting around here). Maybe they're hiding in the second graf!

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Democrats in the Golden State have been hounding political organizers with questions about how they can travel to Georgia to volunteer for Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.

No, not there either. Let's skip some background information and see if we can catch those details by surprise:

... The runoff election has fired up Democrats from out of state. According to campaign finance data, more than 83% of funds for Ossof’s* campaign came from outside Georgia, as did nearly 80% of funds for Warnock’s fall campaign.

Flip the West, a California-based organization “dedicated to harnessing grassroots power to help Democrats take back the U.S. Senate, has filled up more than 7,500 phone bank shifts for making calls to Georgia, according to the Chronicle. Additionally, more than 16,000 volunteers have signed up to send postcards to Georgia voters reminding them to vote in the runoff election.

Still sounds pretty remote, doesn't it? Surely there must be something!

... Others are prepared to physically travel to Georgia. Manny Yekutiel, a political activist who owns a civic engagement space in San Francisco’s Mission District, said he has been bombarded with calls asking him: “When do I move to Georgia? Where can I stay? Should I get a block of hotel rooms?”

Fox is bending the rules, not breaking them. It would be courteous to point out that this quote too was lifted from a professional news organization, but the nod in the second graf kinda-sorta spreads its magic glitter over the subsequent borrowings (which, again, are from a standard if well detailed report on campaign volunteering). From here on out, though, it's all Fox:

Among the most high-profile people who said they were moving to Georgia just to vote in the election is former Democratic Presidential nominee Andrew Yang. 

“Great news #yanggang – Evenlyn** and I are moving to Georgia to help @ossoff and @ReverendWarnock win!” Yang tweeted earlier this month. “This is our only chance to clear Mitch out of the way and help Joe and Kamala get things done in the next 4 years.”

The vast number of people who said they were willing to move to Georgia just so they can vote in the runoff election has prompted state officials to push back on the idea. 

Yang's tweet, needless to say, doesn't say anything about voting intent, nor is there any support for the "vast number" who plan to follow him -- not even in this three-day-old article by one of the Fox staffers credited with contributing:

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system manager, said during a Thursday press conference that there has been “discussion about people coming in from out of state” to “help Georgia,” naming 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang as “the most famous” example.

So with the droves and blitzes vanishing into the mist, how's that stern legal warning (from last Thursday) holding up? Back to our top story:

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system manager, cautioned during a press conference last week that doing so would violate state law.

“In order to be able to register to vote in Georgia, you have to be a Georgia resident,” he said. “That means you have to believe you are staying in Georgia.”

Those who try to vote in Georgia while merely visiting the state may face felony charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.”

I suppose it's a sign of Our Times that Fox needed three staffers (one with the byline, two in the shirttail) to spin somebody else's reporting, some preemptive YANKEES ARE MESSING WITH OUR WAY OF LIFE! squeals from Georgia, and a vague celebrity tweet into a scare story worth the top of the page. You'd like to think a lone reporter from the Hearst or McCormick glory days could knock the whole thing out before lunch.

* Nor has Fox tinkered with its legendary attention to detail.
** Sigh.