Sunday, June 30, 2019

Today in existential threats

What's the existential threat weighing on the minds of Col. McCormick and his enterprising stable of cartoonists on June 30, 1941? 

The hanky that "enterprising widow" Europe is waving is labeled "Union Now" -- the roughly two-year-old "federal union" movement for a transatlantic state (or, as the Tribune put it a day earlier, "the scheme for an immediate union of the United States and the six still-free democracies of the British commonwealth of nations"). This, as you can imagine, was not the Trib's idea of preserving the exceptional American way of life.  I mean, just look at Europe's little friends there.

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Hold that thought, you guys

Well, that didn't age so gracefully.

It's July 1941, and the World's Greatest Newspaper is scoffing in a frontpage editorial at the mere prospect of an attack on this continent. Col. McCormick and his cartoonists have been busily going after the liberal plot to merge the United States with Great Britain. So far, so good when it comes to Mussolini taking on South Carolina or Franco setting out to burn the topless towers of Manhattan, but: "Is the badly shaken Japan about to assault Hawaii or even the Philippines?"

Hold that thought.

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

On clues and having them

Today's pro tip: When you're looking at a story on a left-hand page (2A, for example), look at the upper left corner of the page for a thing called the "folio line." That will tell you the publication date of the daily fishwrap in your hands and -- should the city be part of the title -- where it was published as well! Say, "June 20" and "Detroit," just for example:

Those hints provide some "context" for interpreting a fact claim like "it has felt like summer for at least three weeks," to which an appropriate response on June 20 in Detroit is something like "lolwut?"

Just a bit downpage from the folio is an unusually useful visual representation of quantitative data:
 ... which, in case you were out and about in today's rainy-with-a-high-of-63 in midtown, should make clear that you were not deceiving yourself. It has "felt like summer" for at most one day this year, and that wasn't in the past week. If we need to run a two-day-old story from USA Today in the spot on 2A usually reserved for breathless announcements of new ice cream flavors, could we at least look at the folio line and check whether we're likely to set off uncontrolled hilarity among the audience?

OK, one more. Let's leaf through those folio lines for page 17A:
For you out-of-towners, the best guess is that the guest columnist here is talking about the annual Mackinac Policy Conference,* which the paper covered in its usual fulsome detail when it happened -- at the end of May. I don't see a need to blame the columnist for this, but if you're going to sit on guest submissions for three weeks, do you suppose it might be a minor courtesy to your writers if you allow them to update their work?

I wish it went without saying at this point, but seriously. If you want people to pay for the thing (and apparently you do):
... shouldn't you pay some people to read it before you send it out into the Marketplace of Ideas? You could call them -- I don't know, "editors of copy" or something.

* You can tell a lot about news routines by what they take for granted -- for example, the idea that the annual policy conference everybody has to be at if they want a say in public education (among other topics) is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Apparently, raising this point in Detroit journalism would be sort of like bitching about the drinks menu at a vampire gala.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Product placement fail

Is it just me, or is this particular diaper ad a singularly bad deal for the Washington Times, falling as it does after the lede on a story about a Trump twitter rant?

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Today in framing

Wow! Nothing gets the presidential press corps excited like Big Loud Machines, huh? It's the Daily Mail, so there's really no need to read the text if you've waded through all the decks, but anyway:

Donald Trump got an up-close look at the new presidential aircraft Friday when the next generation of the Marine One fleet landed on the White House South Lawn.

The Sikorsky VH-92A staged the test landing as part of preparations for the new aircraft to enter service in 2021, replacing the Sikorsky VH-3Ds, which have been in service since 1978, completely by 2023.

The White House said Trump inspected the new aircraft, but it was unclear if he stepped on board - the press was not allowed to see him near the helicopter.

He will have to win a second term to be a passenger on the helicopter, with the first being due to enter service with Marine Helicopter Squadron One - HMX-1 in Corps shorthand - after Inauguration Day 2021.

Makes you wonder what the story might have looked like five years ago, doesn't it?
The Department of Defense awarded a contract on Wednesday to a Connecticut company that will build a fleet of helicopters to replace the Marine One fleet that ferries U.S. presidents short distances.

The contract, given to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, will cost an initial $1,244,677,064 'for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the Presidential Helicopter Replacement program.' For that price the U.S. Navy will get six test aircraft and all the necessary research & development.

The Pentagon made a similar attempt to replace the aging fleet of Sikorsky choppers, spending $3.2 billion on a landing pad to nowhere.

Adding in the likely $17 billion price tag for the new project – a number estimated by the Congressional Budget Office – the $20 billion total makes the fleet the most expensive helicopters ever built.

Pretty impressive Arithmetic In The Service Of The Party there -- adding in the $3 million the Kenyan usurper spent before even taking office.

While we're on the topic of the party press, do you ever pine for the days when Fox News was obsessed with presidential golf at birthday time?

President Barack Obama kicked off his birthday weekend Saturday with a round of golf with friends and a getaway to Camp David.

Obama, who turns 52 on Sunday, left the White House just after 8 a.m. EDT -- that's unusually early for the half-hour motorcade ride to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland -- to squeeze in some golf before the celebration shifted to the presidential retreat nestled in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.

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Saturday, June 08, 2019

Here is your war

How do you get to be the afternoon's top story at the Fair 'n' Balanced homepage these days?

Attorney General William Barr compared his arrival at the Justice Department to the type of situation soldiers faced before D-Day.

"As we've been watching the coverage of June 6, 1944 D-Day, I had the thought that my arrival this time felt a little bit, I think, like jumping into Sainte-Mère-Église on the morning of June 5, trying to figure out where you could land without getting shot," he said at the FBI Academy on Friday.

I suppose it wouldn't be very charitable to point out that he might have had an easier time if he'd waited until the evening of June 5. It's not as if anyone said June 6 is a date which will live in infamy, after all, though that gets us to our main point. Could it be just a month ago that an NPR reporter crossed the infamy line?

The Department of Justice reporter for NPR referred to the date of Attorney General Barr's summary of the Mueller report as "a date that will live ... in infamy," a phrase many associate with President Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 speech following the Pearl Harbor attack.

... "March 24th, a date that will live in my brain in infamy, a Sunday, remember, Barr sends this four-page letter to Congress," Johnson said during the podcast. Listeners soon drew connections to her phrase and the remarks made by President Roosevelt in 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, when he declared war on Japan.

"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked," President Roosevelt said.

Although both days are undoubtedly significant in the fabric of American history, some have criticized the perceived comparison as an exaggeration, since more than 2,000 people were killed during Pearl Harbor.

Johnson did not return a request for comment.

So we know what that feckless attorney general must be in for, right? Back to today's epic:

Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the day when Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy in an effort to challenge the Nazi stronghold in Northern Europe.


President Trump spent that day at Normandy, commemorating the sacrifice of American veterans as he faced impeachment calls and investigations from Democrats in Congress.

“To more than one hundred and seventy veterans of the Second World War who join us today – you are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live," he said.


While in Normandy, Trump also spoke with Fox News about the Russia investigation and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who resisted impeachment but also reportedly said she wanted to see Trump in "prison."

“She’s incapable of doing deals, she’s a nasty, vindictive, horrible person, the Mueller report came out, it was a disaster for them," he said of Pelosi.

You mean "listeners" still haven't "drawn connections"?

... Barr, who also served as AG under former President George W. Bush, returned to the Justice Department as Pelosi's party continued pressing the Russia issue and his department faced intense questioning surrounding the investigation.

From the start, Barr was suspected of bias due to a memo he wrote which said he thought Trump was well within his powers when he fired former FBI Director James Comey -- one of the main issues in suspicions surrounding whether the president obstructed justice.

So returning to the Justice Department was sort of like his own personal Normandy? No wonder Fox didn't report asking him to comment.


Sunday, June 02, 2019

I didn't know you were on Moscow's payroll!

It's got to be a rough day at the Fair 'n' Balanced office when you draw the short straw and your story is headed for the No. 2 position on the homepage anyway:

Donald Trump denied calling Meghan Markle "nasty."

Um, stop the press!

Last week, it was reported that Duchess Meghan, 37, would skip out on events with President Trump during his state visit to the U.K., citing maternity leave following the birth of her and Prince Harry's son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor.

An interview she'd done previously while promoting "Suits" resurfaced at the time, in which she'd called Trump "misogynistic ... and so vocal about it," adding, “I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, not because she is a woman, but because Trump has made it easy to see that you don’t really want that kind of world that he’s painting.”

... In an interview with The Sun on Saturday, Trump reportedly said he was "shocked" by Duchess Meghan's remarks.

“I didn’t know that. What can I say? I didn’t know that she was nasty," Trump reportedly told the outlet. When confronted with the fact that she wouldn't be seeing him during his state visit, he replied, “I didn’t know that. I hope she is OK.”

The interview was published Saturday, and given the (ahem) ownership structures of Fox News and The Sun, it does seem a bit odd that Fox took until Sunday to get  on board. Much of Trump World was busy with the story on Saturday, including @TrumpWarRoom ("Warning: This account punches back 10 times harder"):
And by Sunday, the Dear Leader himself had caught up:

On Sunday morning, however, the POTUS changed his tune.

"I never called Meghan Markle 'nasty,' he tweeted. "Made up by the Fake News Media, and they caught cold! Will @CNN, @nytimes and others apologize? Doubt it!"

Well -- not so fast, but let's let our Fox writer finish:

Despite his denial, there is an audio recording circulating of President Trump saying the exact quote about Duchess Meghan that had been reported.

Yes, and one of the places the audio recording is "circulating" is The Sun -- the very Murdoch tabloid that published the interview.

The Fox reporter, perhaps aware that a first-class ticket on the unheated cattle train to Siberia awaits if the account misses but in the estimation of a hair, avoids taking a stand on whether Trump is lying or not in his denial. It's true that he "never called Meghan Markle 'nasty'" -- at least, within the "never" of the interview. But let's consider "I didn't know [ ] was [ ]" in some other circumstances:

I didn't know it was loaded -- It was loaded, and I deeply regret that I stuck it in my waistband while drunk.

Meghan! I didn't know you were here! -- You're here, and somebody else actually said it, OK?

Mr. Vice President! I didn't know you were on Moscow's payroll too! -- Wow, that one's tough.

So, no, he didn't technically, quote-unquote, say "Meghan Markle is nasty." But if you want to apply for that endowed chair in pragmatics at the Trump University Department of Linguistics, it's time to work on the CV.

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The universal language

The police tape saga is a topic of perpetual interest here, but I think this one's a genuine first: the generic "POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS" image illustrating a story from a non-English-speaking country.

A number of other points about the story are worth raising, of course: why it's the top among the day's "top stories"; why "couple" is both singular and plural in the same hed; and why an update that leads with the officially determined cause of death still includes this graf toward the end:

Hotel staff contacted local authorities. The cause of their death is not yet known, but their bodies have been transported to the Dominican National Institute of Forensic Sciences for an exam. The spokesman said blood-pressure medication was found in the room. 

But the generic crime scene tape is really the star of the show. Here's the One Weird Thing You Need To Know about that: Generic photos tend to make people think the writing is worse. (Yes, independently of separate measures that ask directly about the writing.) The effects are squishier and more contingent on perceptions of credibility and objectivity.** If the Elongated Yellow Police Tape has actually become the international symbol of Random Crime For Which We Can't Be Bothered To Find A Photo, though, we've probably turned a corner.

* The AP Stylebook's guidance on this topic is pretty useful.
** Come see us in Toronto in August to hear all about it.

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