Sunday, November 29, 2015

Today in attribution

What we do with attribution -- when we insist on it, when we ignore it, how and why the defense "claims" while the prosecution "notes" -- says a lot about how we want information to be interpreted. Hence the added scare quotes for "comfirm" when it moves from the lede to the blurb at the top of the home page:

The head of the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic where a gunman killed three people and injured nine others said in a statement Saturday that the man held anti-abortion views.

“We are learning that eyewitnesses confirm that the man who will be charged with the tragic and senseless shooting that resulted in the deaths of three people and injures to nine others at Planned Parenthood’s health center in Colorado Springs was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountain CEO Vicki Cowart said.

Around here, we're all about more attribution rather than less, so I'd like to knwo how "we" are learning all this stuff that eyewitnesses are allegedly confirming. But the fourth graf does help a bit:

A law enforcement official also told the Associated Press that Richard Lewis Dear, 57, made a “no more baby parts” remark following his arrest in the deadly rampage Friday. The official told AP he couldn’t elaborate about the comment and spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.

I wonder whether the official told the AP "he" couldn't elaborate or if that's a Fox improvement. When a story avoids gendered pronouns that clunkily ("the law enforcement official who recounted Dear's statement spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation" is how a current AP version goes), there's often a reason. Either way, it seems that there might be room for even a very cautious editor to hang the hed on something other than just Planned Parenthood. The editor might even consult previous top-of-the-homepage reports on (potentially) politically motivated violence:

 I think that's kind of what Walter Lippmann was getting at back in 1922: "For the most part, we do not first see and then define, we define first and then see."

When similes attack

If only the Kenyan usurper hadn't grabbed all that surplus military hardware away from local police departments, someone might have wondered:

The sky was clear but the storm kept coming, a relentless downpour of scarlet and gray that ran, got up, ran, got up, and ran some more. The Ohio State rushing attack was a tank, collecting first downs like mud in its tires and rolling over every possession, plowing through third downs, only stopping when it hit the end zone wall. Six touchdowns? Three hundred and sixty-nine yards rushing? Against a Michigan defense that was ranked fourth in the nation against the run? 

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

The magic of names

One of the things we'll talk about in the seminar this week (unless you guys go off on a Disney political-economy tangent again) is how and whether cues function differently in the online environment than in other mediated environments -- specifically, how the bits of information that don't look like information help the hardworking brain make sense of the bits that do look like information. Thus, we might find it useful to compare this morning's Fair 'n' Balanced homepage (above) with one from -- oh, something at random from July 2015, for example.

If we were feeling charitable, we could put the difference between "chaos" and "terror" down to the novice editor's love for alliteration,* but we're still left with those two passive "gunman identified" clauses: Given that we're not dealing with the sort of public figure whose given names would be especially relevant to the coffee-deprived reader-at-large,** what do you think Fox could be doing by burning an extra line on "as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez"?

I know! Let's look at some other important online websites and see how they handled that July story! The Drudge Report, for example:
 If you want to zoom in, you can find "Standoff ends with gunman at Planned Parenthood ..." at lower left in the Drudge screengrab below.
Journalistic patience is a rare and pleasant thing. Even if the best you can do is wait for the official version from the cops, it's always better to admit you have no idea why the perp did it than to guess at what ailed him (or her). And as we pass judgment on who did more effective cueing, we can also consider the differences between working on the scene we have and rewriting the wires. News routines have their well-documented failings, but at some point we should acknowledge that they are categorically different from propaganda routines.

* Though there's a good content analysis to be had in looking at the conditions under which Fox feels licensed to say "TERROR!!!!!" without an official saying it first
** It's not like the hed said "Shining figure in sky identified as Carl Yastrzemski," I mean.

Today in punctuation

The occasional comma that makes all the difference:

A North Carolina fourth-grader has earned a lifetime of free haircuts after accepting a challenge from his barber.

“He said if I bring my report card back and it’s straight A’s I will get free haircuts for the rest of my life,” Kamarian Fox, 9, told Fox & Friends’ “Hometown Hero” segment Saturday.

Kamarian got his first free hair cut at the Next Level Barbershop in Gastonia, N.C., last week after proudly showing barber Mike Shelton his latest report card.

And the result?

“I was just blown away, honestly,” Shelton told Fox & Friends.  “Honestly, I forgot to be honest. He came up to me and handed me the report card. I was like, man what is this and I opened it up and I just seen A, A, A, A.”

The video clip is less ambiguous, because it includes some stuff Fox left out here. Rather than "I forgot to be honest," it comes out "Honestly, like, at first ... honestly, I forgot, to be honest with you, Clayton." (And the part after "A, A, A, A" makes it even clearer: "and I was like, oh, man, i remembered.")

We could have an interesting talk about whether this qualifies as doctoring a quote or just neatening it up around the edges a little (and whether Fox could have been politer to its sources with better use of partial quotes and paraphrasing). And we could have a wonderful time figuring out how this became the evening's No. 4 story (below). But one would hope we can all agree that there's a difference between "I forgot to be honest" and "I forgot, to be honest."

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Always at war with Eastasia

And how is the usurper shredding the very fabric of society today, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

Valuable vehicles and equipment are being yanked from law enforcement agencies across the country by the Obama administration in the wake of the president’s post-Ferguson order -- as sheriffs and lawmakers tell the equipment is needed, and losing it could put officers and the communities they serve in danger.

“These things are useful tools and the president taking them away will put more officers in jeopardy and at risk of harm or even death. I don’t know how he can sleep at night knowing his actions will have those repercussions,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., told

And when was it the feckless Kenyan put his totalitarian plot into motion?

President Obama issued Executive Order 13688 in January after the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Mo., amid concerns about the “militarization” of the police fueling a heavy-handed response.

If only some commentator at Fox had warned us in mid-2014!

I want the police to be better armed than the bad guys, but what exactly does that mean today?

Apparently it means the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security equip even the tiniest rural police departments with massive military vehicles, body armor and grenade launchers. The equipment is surplus from the long wars we fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read more »

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Hat trick of stupid

In case the subtlety of "Geiger" and "Count it!" blew past you, there's always "aglow" and "atomize."


Sunday, November 22, 2015

No, but thanks for asking

Here's how to tell if your sportsball team is on the verge of a miracle:

Has someone turned water into Bud Light?

If not, strike "miracle." Your sportsball team is on the brink of "winning another game," maybe.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Leave the rooster -- that's human interest

The only thing better than getting the boss's name into a frontpage hed is spelling the boss's name correctly in a frontpage hed:

The graduates of the Ailes Apprentice Program class of 2015 were honored in New York City Thursday in a ceremony hosted by Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner, and featuring remarks from Fox News Chairman & CEO Roger Ailes, along with singer and Fox News contributor Santita Jackson.

Roll down to page 3 here if this seems at all unusual to you.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Today in Kenyan Muslim perfidy

Because why talk policy, tactics or Carly Fiorina's obsession with the US 6th Fleet when you've got the usurper making his usurper-y face and saying ... what was it he said, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

Three days after teams of Islamic State terrorists brazenly carried out raids across Paris that left 129 people dead, President Obama labeled the slaughter a "setback" in responding to questions about his policies.

Well, he did use just slightly stronger language, even if "the terrible events were terrible" is going to cost him a letter grade in J2100:

"There will be setbacks and there will be successes. The terrible events in Paris were obviously a terrible and sickening setback," Obama said Monday.

But the point is the same: Western Civ is in peril, and the smirking Kenyan puts it off as a "setback." Do the comments just seem to write themselves?

129 innocent lives lost is a 'setback' to this freak?? What  a sorry POS!!!

Benghazi was a video and Paris is a setback.  Ferguson was a tragedy.

All these "setbacks" are hurting the "setback" in chief's GOLF GAME!

.....and uneducated people still have no clue why Neville Chamberlain was an international failure....

129 human beings dead and the best o-bozo can do is call it a setback? I am surprised he did not use these deaths to push gun control.

If OBOLA calls the Paris TERRORIST ATTACK a "setback", what would he call a TERRORIST ATTACK with a nuclear weapon?

For the French, the Paris attacks are an act of war. For Obama, the Paris attacks are a "setback." Neville Chamberlain would have loved Obama.

See a couple of trends converging here? There's the Kenyan's inability to call stuff what it is, and there's the Churchill-Chamberlain comparison: implicitly, that Real Men (OK, real white men) don't talk like that. Which suggests a comparison: What would Churchill do? Conveniently, we have some idea, because Churchill was a pretty prolific writer -- here, for example, writing to the prime minister of New Zealand in January 1942:

But who could have foretold the serious opening setback that the United States suffered on December 7, with all that this and subsequent losses of our two fine ships entail?

Well, that can't be right. Surely Churchill won't stumble when the subject is BENGHAZI!!!! Or would that be ...

Chapter II

   ... This retreat of nearly three hundred miles ruined our hopes and lost us Benghazi and all the stores General Auchinleck had been gathering for his hoped-for offensive in the middle of February. Rommel must have been astounded by the overwhelming success of the three small columns with which he started the attack.

Outrage appears to have a lot more to do with who you are than with the scale of your setback. There's much more to digest in the past few days' events, but if you're trying to figure out whether the knobs on the fear amplifier really do go up to 11, Fox is always a good place to start.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Peever and peeveress He created them

How are things on the Get Off My Lawn front over at The Journalist's Bible?
Q. Is it permissible (by today's rules) to start a sentence with "And"? – from Vancouver, Wash. on Thu, Nov 05, 2015
A. Yes, but avoid overusing that phrasing.

Apparently we're not going to set this one to rest without appealing to a Higher Power, so -- how about it, Creator of Heaven and Earth?

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

OK, so it takes the almighty all of two verses to drop a coordinating conjunction on an independent clause. Surely He wouldn't overuse that phrasing, would He?
  • And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.*
  • And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
  • And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
  • And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
  • And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
  • And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
Calm down, ye peevers, and notice a few things God didn't do. "It's official: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," for example. The gloves goeth not on, the gloves cometh not off, and Christmas cometh not early (though -- spoilers! -- that's a plot point in the sequel). But if your question is whether "today's rules" allow you to begin a sentence with "and," the answer is: Yes, and they have ever since "today's rules" meant Shakespeare. And you could look it up, but you (and the AP editors) probably have better stuff to do.

* I know it's traditional to number the verses, but bullets would have looked better on the PowerPoint

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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

When porcupines attack

It's always a shame when the comments aren't enabled, because "brutal porcupine attack" could have set off a really good round of Fox Comments Bingo.* All we can do instead is wonder how this tale managed to get around the world so fast and so -- OK, did you guys look at the picture (below) over at the highly reliable Daily Mail? Which suggests that most porcupine attacks were written by Monty Python in their prime and begin with something like "Hold still while I back into you"?

Here's the Fox lede, appropriated from Sky News, which wasn't even the first UK outlet on the scene:

Three Canadian dogs are recovering after being spiked by a porcupine, as their owner receives support from the public to help cover the vet bill.

At a glance, the story appears to have originated from a GoFundMe post last week (where the attack was a "nasty encounter"), then languished in the local media until it sprang to life on Tuesday at the Star ("a brutal brawl," if you count being jumped on by a pit bull as a "brawl") and the Huffington Post ("an attack by a porcupine") before crossing the Atlantic to the Mail ("attacked by a porcupine and stabbed with barbs all over"). It reached the quality press** ("Porcupine attacks three dogs in Canada") and ITV (my personal favorite hed, "Dog narrowly survives lethal spiking from porcupine") before migrating back our shores, and the rest had better be history, because it ain't zoology.

Fox isn't the only US outlet to blame the victim for the mugging here, and certainly not the only one to confuse "after" and "during." But one could fairly wonder exactly what associations are going on in the editorial mind when the only "brutal attack" to make the frontpage is, you know, an angry porcupine in Saskatchewan.

* BENGHAZI !!!!!!! is the free space in the center, so basically, if you have Sharia, Chicago, Al Sharpton and Moochelle's lunch menu, you've got bingo.
** OK, the Torygraph

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