Sunday, August 21, 2016

That's why they call it ...

What was the problem with those ladies-in-waiting, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

An article on Page 174 this weekend about the idea of waiting for things as a cultural trend misstates the English period when a lady-in-waiting could become the king’s mistress or wife. It was possible during the Tudor era in England, as well as other eras, but not during the Elizabethan period. (There were no kings of England during the Elizabethan era.)

So ... not just Victorian prudishness?

I'm trying to imagine how exciting the rest of the magazine might be if you can get through 173 pages and still have "the idea of waiting for things as a cultural trend" before you. Not having a lot of luck so far.  

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

What about Vice, your honor?

"Go online and Google it" is an exceptionally stupid answer in a political debate, but if you've thrown away all the paper dictionaries, maybe it'll do in a pinch for copy editors.

Not sure why, but when this one showed up on the Facebooks (thanks to editors, of course), I was put in mind of a Liebling piece without being able to place it. Amazing what Google does:

Once we had a Mayor of New York named Gaynor, who lived in Brooklyn and used to walk the Brooklyn Bridge every morning to City Hall, attended by the reporters for the afternoon papers. I was a child then, but when I went to work in 1924 I met a lot of the fellows who had walked with His Honor.

There were crusaders then, too, on another pet subject, though for another reason: prurient interest.

“And what about Vice, your Honor,” some poor devil would have to ask every morning, because his editor had instructed him.

“What vice?” the Mayor would ask. “Avarice?”

He had hit the publishers’ favorite.

If you're a framing person (and if you hang around here, you should be), you can read "Horsefeathers Swathed In Mink" online. See if the lede rings a bell:

There is no concept more generally cherished by publishers than that of the Undeserving Poor.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Shut up, he ladded

The morning's top story at the Fair 'n' Balanced network didn't get much of an edit (it's fair to suggest that it didn't even get a spellcheck), but there's something particularly delightful about the last graf:

After praising Manafort for helping his father's campaign through the tough primaries, Eric Trump ladded, "But again, my father just didn’t want to have the distraction looming over the campaign and quite frankly looming over all the issues that Hillary’s facing right now."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Remain calm! All is well!

Your lips to God's ears -- or, more specifically, from Gateway Pundit to Drudge to the Washington Times to the Fox Nation. The black guy's playing golf again!

That puts into context Monday morning's commentary from Howard Kurtz, called in to explain the latest outburst from the Party Leader:

... There are two simultaneous realities here: The media are in the midst of the most one-sided reporting and analysis I’ve ever seen in a presidential campaign. And Trump keeps giving them ammunition. Even if they are overplaying and misinterpreting his comments on “Second Amendment people” and “founder of ISIS” and the like, these are his words, on videotape, that stir the constant controversies that have overshadowed the coverage of Hillary Clinton.

Kurtz is taking on the Chip Diller role at Fox here: Remain calm! It's the media! All is well! And no doubt he's right: it might well be the most one-sided reporting of a campaign he's ever seen, or at least that he remembers having seen. Howard Kurtz lives and works on a planet on which there's actually an FDA-recommended adult minimum for stories in which everything the Kenyan usurper does (golfing, having dinner, raising teenagers) is an affront to American values, just by his doing it. That's the context in which to take the claim that an unhealthy focus on the Party Leader's moral and lexical cluelessness is diverting attention from "coverage of Hillary Clinton."

A balanced campaign story would look more like this:

 ... in which "'rigging' charge" is a thing, rather than an object of ridicule.

I don't mean to suggest that there's no room left for an even-handed, indoor-voices presentation of the relevant evidence that allows the masses to do their democratic duty. I would suggest that Howard Kurtz is rapidly running out of lipstick to dress up the truckload of pigs that Fox leaves in his inbox every day.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Today in journalism: Campaigns and biases

Since it's well and truly BIAS ALERT season over at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, let's set the controls for this day in 1988, with the Washington Post explaining why a reporter is leaving the crosstown competition.

Long story short, the WashTimes had been lusting for some time after a story that would say Michael Dukakis (the Democratic nominee, in case he's slipped your mind) had undergone psychiatric treatment. Having finally found someone who would go so far as "it's possible, but I doubt it," the national desk put "it's possible" on the front and "I doubt it" somewhere after the jump. Surprised to find a made-up story under their bylines, both reporters on the story then quit (at the time of the hed above, one hadn't decided).*

As Walter Lippmann put it many years ago, "for the most part, we do not see first and then define; we define first and then see." The party press doesn't always, or necessarily often, make its news up (though if you read a lot of Fox, you can be forgiven for wondering why the stories so frequently fall short of the headlines). It sees the same events but, having defined the stage and players differently, sees a different world -- one in which "I doubt it" means "STOP THE PRESS!"

Hence "Bias Alert," a quadrennial Fox feature meant to remind the faithful that (a) all they hold dear is at every moment in existential peril and (b) their cries for help will be ignored by a corrupt media. This year's version started at midweek, "Media attempts to justify continued Trump bashing" and "Media confess to Trump bashing, try to justify it" at top left, by Fox media critic Howard Kurtz:

The media’s legions of Trump-bashers are finally acknowledging the obvious.

And trying their best to justify it.

But there’s one problem: Tilting against one candidate in a presidential election can’t be justified.
Read more »

How news works

News doesn't happen by accident, but it does happen by routine. Let's see how many of the unwritten rules of Fox practice we can figure out from this page-turner!

FOX News announced a new senior leadership team and management structure today, naming Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy and Senior Executive Vice President Bill Shine to serve as Co-Presidents effective immediately. The announcement was made by the network's founder, Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman of 21st Century Fox and Executive Chairman of FOX News Channel & FOX Business Network, to whom Mr. Abernethy and Mr. Shine will report.

First off, as the ear over the hed indicates, it's a "U.S. regions" story -- thus, not categorized as economic, crime, immigration, terrorism or personal freedom news. (Fox seems to know I'm checking in from Michigan, so most of the top "regions" stories suggested for me are about Muslims Behaving Badly.) So whoever this is meant for, it's more "local" than "business."

The style deviations indicate something else. Fox is generally careless with its copy editing, so even when it misses its signature tweaks to wire copy ("homicide bomber" for "suicide bomber," for example, or "Koran" for "Quran"), it's hard to distinguish sloppiness from one-off error from layoff-induced haste from an actual policy change. The capitalized standalone titles, then, might just be a glitch, but the courtesy titles aren't. Those didn't go in by accident, and they suggest that there went out a decree: Nobody touch the story; it's been approved. Even to point out that ....

In addition, Suzanne Scott has been named Executive Vice President of Programming and Development for FNC and will continue reporting to Mr. Shine. In this position, Scott will supervise FNC’s daytime and primetime opinion shows and lead development of new programming.

... if the boys have courtesy titles, perhaps the girls should have them too? Maybe Fox is making up for all those decades during which the AP required courtesy titles for women but not for men. Or maybe a portal to another dimension opens if somebody at Fox says "Ms." As above, it's hard to tell.

Most of the story is standard press release, even when it gets to the thanks for your many years of service, and we'll send your family a bill for the bullet "embarks on a new chapter" part:

FOX News also announced that Chief Financial Officer Mark Kranz will be retiring. Throughout his tenure, Mr. Kranz was promoted from Director to Vice President of Finance, eventually assuming the role of CFO for both FNC and FBN. He joined the network from Viacom in 1997.

In commenting on the announcement, Mr. Murdoch said, “Over his 19 years with FOX News, Mark Kranz was instrumental in increasing profitability across all of our key properties. We are grateful for his many contributions to the company and we extend our best wishes to him as he embarks on a new chapter."

Wondering what brought that on? Maybe the New York Times can explain:

On Friday, Fox also announced that its longtime chief financial officer, Mark Kranz, would retire. His departure was linked to his oversight of the network’s finances during a period when financial settlements were made with women who had complained of harassment, according to two people who requested anonymity to describe internal matters.

Oh. You mean it's a story about ... how did that Times story start again?

In assuming the leadership of Fox News last month, Rupert Murdoch pledged a fresh start at a network reeling from accusations that its longtime chairman, Roger Ailes, had overseen a culture of harassment and intimidation.

But on Friday, Mr. Murdoch made clear that — for now at least — Fox’s new era will be led by its old guard.

So the Fox story is sort of like announcing that new condo development at Isengard without mentioning the property's flood insurance challenges. That's the root of the general mandate (pay attention, PR students) against running press releases verbatim. News practice requires telling you why a story is interesting. That doesn't always mean the "nut graf" of journalism lore -- at Fox, you can just drop in a mug shot of Obama to remind you that somewhere in the text is an existential threat to your constitutional freedoms. But broadly, if a story doesn't bother with you should care, there's at least an outside chance you're not supposed to know.

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Monday, August 08, 2016

On Being, or on Message Down?

Just as a reminder that our British friends aren't the only ones who churn out the occasional post-comprehensible hed, there's this from the National Review. See how long it takes you to get the intended meaning:

Donald Trump made pro forma endorsements of Paul Ryan, John McCain, and Kelly Ayotte on Friday, which has led his supporters to argue his campaign is back on track. It does show that Trump can sometimes be forced to do things he doesn’t want to–the Pence pick was another example–but this wasn’t exactly a watershed event. His original non-endorsements were an exercise in pointlessly destructive pique, and quickly backtracking was literally the least he could do. But every time he reads from a script his boosters hopefully pronounce it a major turning point (presumably there will be more of this after tomorrow’s economic speech).

National Review is still a bastion of obsessive hyphenation, if not of full-on Buckleyesque high grammar. ("Quickly backtracking" isn't even figuratively the least he could have done.) The problem with the hed, of course, isn't that it's ungrammatical, but that -- as is so often the case -- it's grammatical about so many different things. Defining being is one of them; Message Down is another.

Easy cure: Quotes! Especially since the phrase doesn't appear in the text of the post, mark it in the hed: Defining "being on message" down.

On a completely unrelated note, enjoy the comments.  There are reasons a circular ambush with units this size is a bad idea.

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Sunday, August 07, 2016

A trillion here, a billion there ...

Having told the candidate how to campaign, the Fair 'n' Balanced Network does its best to keep him in line:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that Hillary Clinton’s latest attempt to explain her email scandal -- that her brain had a “short circuit” -- is a “very dangerous” excuse and a new way to “lie about lying.”

“She now has a fundamental way of saying, ‘I didn’t quite lie to you; I just short-circuited,' ” Gingrich, a Georgia Republican and top supporter of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, also told “Fox News Sunday.” "It’s one thing to lie, it’s another to lie about lying."

He was joined on the show by California Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra who, like other Clinton supporters, is trying to move past Clinton as secretary of state using a private email server and the related FBI investigation.

And how might the craven LIEberal do that?

Becerra repeated the argument that Trump’s plan would cost the U.S. economy a “breathtaking” 3.5 billion jobs. And he backed Clinton saying last week that Obama didn’t have enough time to fully execute is economic recovery plan, including a nearly $1 billion stimulus plan.

Part lie, part blindside hit, and part -- well, let's go to Fox's rush transcript of the same show:

GINGRICH:  ... Let me give you an example.  If you open up America's energy and mining opportunities, there's at least $7 trillion in potential additional revenue just from making it easier to develop our own energy and only mental resources.  There are a number of steps to take to dramatically accelerate the economy.  If you dramatically shrink to 600 new regulations Obama has imposed, you have an explosion of small business getting created.

In a period of economic growth such as the Reagan era, you in fact do raise a tremendous amount of revenue.

WALLACE:  Congressman Becerra, you can responsible, but I also --

BECERRA:  Breathtaking.  Breathtaking.

WALLACE:  Go ahead.

BECERRA:  The plan you just outlined, which sentence* money mostly to folks at the top has been scored to probably look about 3.5 million jobs by Senator McCain's former economist.  It's also very clear that in increasing debt, Donald Trump really meant he was the, quote, "king of debt".  This is a guy who thinks -- and his quote was wages are too high.

It's hard to say exactly which claim is addressed by the "breathtaking" comment, but it does seem to pretty clearly not be the one about the estimated toll of 3.5 (ahem) million jobs. Let's just score that as a lie. The million/billion might be accidental, given the bit about the size of the stimulus. Here's the story:

“He had a chance with $900 million and blew it,” Gingrich said. “You campaign on things being good enough. We’ll campaign on things should be better. And we’ll see who wins.”

And the transcript:

GINGRICH:  Notice what he had said thought.  We had the chance, we had $900 billion, we blew it, but now trust Secretary Clinton --

Fox, in short, is having a lot of trouble with the whole numbers thing today, making it hard to call any specific blunder the intentional one. But the Fox commenters certainly seem to have gotten the right message about Rep. Becerra:

Becerra repeated the argument that Trump’s plan would cost the U.S. economy a “breathtaking” 3.5 billion jobs------------------is that democrat math?

The ministry of the truth approves this message.

Yes, they think the WH Boy ADDING 16 million to Welfare is a good thing.

Becerra repeated the argument that Trump’s plan would cost the U.S. economy a “breathtaking” 3.5 billion jobs. Newt should have asked how does a country of 300 million people lose 3.5 billion jobs.

Lefties aren't known for being good at math and science. They tend to major in the subjects the math and science people take to pad their GPAs.

So there may be a good reason for overlooking this part of the exchange:

GINGRICH:  ... But the fact is, Hillary's got a run on the grounds that disrupting Libya, disrupting Syria, failing in Russia, failing in Iraq, failing in Afghanistan as a terrific strategy, and she will do more of the same failure, including, by the way, paying $400 billion in cash, which the president assures us was not in fact --

WALLACE:  Four hundred million, and we're going to be talking about that, which is a good way to get you two off the set. 

"No cheering in the pressbox" is another of the nice old rules of journalism that Fox often manages to stay just on the right side of. No blood, no foul: Plenty of guests are set to discuss the usurper's ransom payment, so there's nothing wrong with leaving the former speaker's blunder -- which, unlike Rep. Becerra's, appears to have actually happened -- out of the frontpage story.

So, no. Fox isn't cheering in the pressbox. Then again, when you're the coach, batboy and official scorekeeper, you don't have to.

* I'd probably guess "sends." Transcription is a tough sport.

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