Friday, January 20, 2017

Pronouns: The farewell tour

Shed a tear in passing for the specious pronoun count as an index of thinly veiled right-wing racism presidential narcissism. We may never see its like again -- though with a few hours left in the regular season, you don't want to rule anything out.

The pronoun meme deserves a spot in the Fake News Hall of Fame for its sheer persistence. (The flying verb in Drudge's play from last Wednesday  makes clear that this isn't a story that needs a lot of explanation.) It relies on three observations:
1) The Kenyan usurper uses first-person pronouns! Which most of us -- oops -- do pretty often.
2) The Kenyan usurper uses them N or NN or NNN times! Whether that's a proportion or a raw number, whether it's per minute or per word, or whether it's more or less than any of his predecessors, doesn't signify. GAAAAAAH!
3) Therefore narcissism! Which, sort of like the perpetual bedwetting over the Kenyan threat to "fundamentally transform" America, always ends up leading back to someone like Reagan, who used first-person pronouns with a pretty human regularity and closed out his tenure by congratulating himself on fundamentally transforming a lot more than that:

And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there's no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.

Imagine what Fox News might have thought. Wait, don't.

Anyway, there's an enduring archive of pronoun madness over at Language Log. That doesn't quite get all the details, such as what we learn from how the meme spreads. Drudge's Wednesday play is from the Daily Caller, which seems to have a new aura owing to Tucker Carlson's ascent at Fox but is otherwise its same old droolery self:

President Obama referred to himself 75 times in his farewell address Tuesday night, according to a review of his prepared remarks by The Daily Caller.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Well, not really. Not at all, actually

Let's skip all the stuff about context, framing and the social construction of reality and look at a chunk of nice, old-fashioned, entirely fabricated fake news. Given those conditions, we're less interested in the creation of meaning -- after all, there is no unframed condition of news -- than in how far toward the center an out-and-out lie can spread.

The Drudge Report, as usual, isn't the originator, but it's an important indicator, because outfits (say, the Times) that don't spend much time with the drooler media do look at Drudge. Here, the vaguely policy-oriented sites (Heat Street, Campus Reform, the Education Action Group), which often wipe most of the foam off before they go out in public, are on an equal footing with sites that dispense entirely with the bib, like InfoWars and -- have you guys met ZeroHedge yet?
In the month leading up to the election on November 8th, we repeatedly demonstrated how the mainstream media polls from the likes of ABC/Washington Post, CNN and Reuters repeatedly manipulated their poll samples to engineer their desired results, namely a large Hillary Clinton lead (see "New Podesta Email Exposes Playbook For Rigging Polls Through 'Oversamples'" and "ABC/Wapo Effectively Admit To Poll Tampering As Hillary's "Lead" Shrinks To 2-Points").

Sadly, no. As in no, you didn't "demonstrate" anything, and no, that's not how sampling works, unless you have access to cheap and reliable time travel, in which case -- for an operation touting "the news that moves the markets" -- you seem to be missing a major career opportunity. As even the morons of the "unskewed polls" movement acknowledged four years ago, a difference between party identification and voter intent is not evidence of playing around with the sample. If you know the former, you can go back in time and skew the latter. Do send a postcard.

The point, again, isn't whether another huckster is playing Duke-and-Dauphin with the rubes. It's how far up the beach any specific fiction is washed before someone picks it up. Not every made-up story leads the Drudge page; the one about the pizza parlor didn't make it, but the one about Podesta drinking the chicken blood did:

And, to reiterate, the intent doesn't have to be for every story to produce an armed attack on an innocent restaurant. All that has to happen is for the story to get close enough that someone has to spend time denying it.

This is going to be a tough habit to break for news organizations that still fear they might miss the next Hoovergate, but really -- if you can't ignore fake news, at least you can run a laugh track behind it. The polls weren't rigged, the employment data weren't cooked, and you should make sport of anyone who says otherwise.

Including the president-in waiting? Well, that would be an encouraging sign.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Gollum gollum gollum

While you're enjoying Friday morning's Fair 'n' Balanced homepage (in order, Brave Massster! Wicked, tricksy Soros! Hobbitses are mean to Massster! Massster makes us happy!), ponder what it might look like when different arms of the Murdoch empire start to disagree with each other. Here's the Journal, for example, from the beginning of the week:

The report concludes “with high confidence” that Mr. Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election” to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” It also concludes that Mr. Putin “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

Yet the report offers no evidence or judgment that the hacking influenced the election result. The leaks from Clinton aide John Podesta’s email and the Democratic National Committee were embarrassing in their candid views of individuals, but they included no bombshells. The emails that really hurt Mrs. Clinton’s electability were those she kept on a private server while Secretary of State.

My, my, my. That's certainly not what Massster said at his news conference!

But remember this — we talk about the hacking, and hacking's bad, and it shouldn't be done, but look at the things that were hacked. Look at what was learned from that hacking, that Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn't report it? That's a horrible thing. That's a horrible thing. Can you imagine that if Donald Trump got the questions to the debate, it would have been the biggest story in the history of stories, and they would have said immediately, "You have to get out of the race." Nobody even talked about it. It's a very terrible thing.

Nor, of course, is it what Fox thought as those bombshells kept landing:

Should you have actually read the stories, you probably agree with the Journal: Even the ones that Fox fabricated (no, the Clinton Foundation didn't pay for Chelsea's wedding; no, "a longtime Clinton confidant" didn't "express regret that the terrorist wasn't a white man") fall apart in the sad light of day. That doesn't mean that the emails on the Sekret Server were the ones that "really hurt Mrs. Clinton's electability"; the Journal is making that up, because that's what editorial writers do with fact claims about public opinion. It means that "the emails" worked as a Fox story because real issues and fake issues became indistinguishable.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Eggcorn seeds

Interesting comment* from the judge in the guinea pig trial. Want to know what it looks like at the crosstown competition?

The judge noted Wednesday the teens didn’t have prior criminal records and were good students from good families, but said he put off the sentencing by for a while to make sure there were no “deep-seated issues” that needed to be addressed with the young defendants.

The guiding wisdom of the AP Stylebook, "Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage," doesn't apply here. In this sort of case, that's exactly what the writer heard (and step forward anyone who writes for a living and can claim to a perfect record on this front.) The assembly line of news, though, evolved a set of processes that vastly increased the chances of such blunders being caught -- even if by a typesetter who was better at spelling than half the newsroom.

Blunders got through in the good old days of full employment and double time and a half for holiday shifts, and blunders will get through when the last editor is reassigned as a content creator. If you want a product in which they're rare enough to call attention to themselves, you need to let your content providers know. Preferably with subscriptions or large stacks of unmarked bills.

* Now, alas, corrected online.

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Monday, January 09, 2017

Leave my garage out of this

On the bright side (unlike -- could it be a year ago Wednesday?), the local paper isn't telling us not to put away the snow shovels yet. But it's still hard to see the journalistic value in telling me how to prepare for using a snow shovel, rather than estimating the likelihood that the ... oh, no.

Once again, it is not "the white stuff." It is never "the white stuff." There are no circumstances under which "the white stuff" does not place your mortal soul in danger. Shun it forever.

What about "windchill"? Not soulwise, but one word or two? You could ask what the story says, but it wouldn't help -- no mention of wind chills in the print edition. This is from the online version, which is a few grafs longer:

The average temperature this time of year is about 26 degrees, she said. Today, temperatures are in the upper teens in the Detroit area, but the wind chill makes it feel like 6 degrees.

Two words, just as the AP Stylebook has it. Though the stylebook probably would have let you figure out on your own that "6 degrees" doesn't mean "below zero."

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Sunday, January 08, 2017

Fake news: It isn't fair, it isn't right

These aren't "news," in that they've been sitting on the desktop for a while and I'm trying to get things cleaned up for a new semester, but they're a part of the spectrum that we need to not overlook amid the broader discussion of news and faking it. That's the Washington Post above, from Jan. 18, 2016,* and the Washington Times, below, from July 9.
The Times has slightly the worse of it, both on general suckerhood and on syntax:

If luck be a lady tonight in the $540 million Mega Millions lottery, she very well could appear at the Tenley Market on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest Washington.

And then again, she might not. But the larger problem is that some of the most dangerous forms of fake news are self-inflicted. The lottery story is a persistent example. It's not a partisan affliction, and the Russians aren't pumping it into our water supply to sap our precious bodily fluids. News organizations do it to themselves, and they're the ones who can stop doing it to themselves. File with Bigfoot; tell him his poetry smells and kick him downstairs.

* Yes I'm aware that the URL and the online hed both say "Sorry, Powerball dreamers: There’s no such thing as a ‘lucky store.'" Let us know how you inferred that from the 1A "numbers don't lie" play, OK?

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Pesky signs!

Without looking at the lede -- how many hyphens, and where?

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