Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween III

And what do reporters fear more than an open stylebook? BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween II

It's not quite what it seems. The lede, alas, clears things up rather well:
Read more »


Ebola cured! Mideast at peace!

Such a mellow place the world must be, that the tale of  someone allegedly trying to fire the surgeon-general in public is the only thing worth the front of the freedom-loving New York Post.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Sorry, but the comma was just enough of a speed bump to push this one into the next Com3210 slideshow. If you want to make sure we can tell two things are happening to the pastor (he's being disciplined, but he's still ordained), leave out the comma, so we don't mistake the ordination of the remains for a clause of their own.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

I couldn't either

News language is nothing if not imitative. Rather than looking up all that pesky grammar and style stuff, it's often easier to fall back on what the other guy is doing. If Drudge randomly drops pronouns and the heavens don't darken, might as well try it yourself -- particularly when the count is tight.

Now, what do you suppose made a rewrite of a local cut-n-paste from the real estate listings the fourth most super-important story of the afternoon? Well ... Chicago, gangsters -- maybe the commenters can tell us!

Read more »

Labels: , ,

Saturday, October 25, 2014

No, but thanks for asking

Robert Bell shares his home with decorative skulls and skeletons and, he says, real ghosts.
The ghosts have inhabited the western Henrico County rancher for years, Bell said. He even suggested that visitors on a recent night might see one.
Yes, I'm sure he did.

... A self-styled “paranormal investigator,” Bell said he has checked hundreds of homes, buildings and battlefields. He sometimes charges travel expenses, but overall the work is not profitable, he said. He does it for the enjoyment.

Read more »


Monday, October 20, 2014


Looks like it's time to reserve a few seats for the WashTimes design and copy desks on the next unheated cattle car to Siberia:

Despite the sudden loss of confidence on Wall Street last week, the U.S. economy shows little sign of faltering and its solid footing helped nurture a quick recovery in stocks.

Wait! Who put this at the top of the front page?

Economists point out that U.S. growth took off in the spring quarter with a 4.5 percent rebound from a winter slump and is expected to continue at a healthy 3 percent clip in the second half of the year. That far surpasses the growth rates in Europe and even bests the sluggish growth of formerly robust emerging economies such as Brazil and Russia.

Perhaps more important, the U.S. jobs machine got back into action this year, churning out a string of job gains averaging well over 200,000 a month in what looks to be the best year for job growth since the 1990s.
You'll be telling us that Nigeria has been declared free of Ebola next.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hello there, stranger!

How far did you say it was to Little Rock, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

Because of an editing error, an article on Friday about Bermuda’s preparations for Hurricane Gonzalo as it approached the island misstated, in some copies, the location of Bermuda relative to North Carolina. It is 670 miles east of North Carolina, not west.

If you said "three lengths of a fool," take the rest of the day off. When in doubt, look it up; when certain, look it up anyway.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 17, 2014

Today in advertising

Ever seen the Michelin man's baby pictures? Neither had I. This is from the Times on this date in 1947.

Should you be scoring along at home, the first ad on British TV was still almost eight years away.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tell us what you really think

What's going on at the old WashTimes copydesk these days? Are we trying to keep the print edition looking all professional and journalistic, so passersby will figure it's a newspaper, or are we just giving our online readers a little extra spice?

Here's the caption provided online for the thumbnail above:

Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy’s first marriage to Joan Bennett, ended in divorce in 1982, with Time nmagazine* reporting the marriage was annulled by the Vatican more than a decade later.

Weird, huh? The noun "Kennedy" doesn't seem to appear anywhere in the text

* (sic), if you're scoring along at home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Today in the echo chamber

Hey, kids! Every wonder why some Fair 'n' Balanced stories let you wade right into the comments section and cut loose on the usurper:

This isnt negligence, this is intentional. We have a madman in the Oval Office and millions of liberal co-conspirators. Store up plenty of food and emergency supplies, its going to get real ugly real soon.

ANYONE that still considers this joke an American Potus deserves nothing more than a one way plane ticket straight to Africa! Hes done nothing more than put strain on American taxpayers while spending on his personal priorities=llegals-terrorist-career government dependent and supporting his homeland-AFRICA!!!

After their success in freeing the girls in Nigeria, Moochelle will dragout #Ebola to fight this Republican disease!

This so called President'''''''''should be skinned alive.
... while on others, comments are (hem) "currently closed" (kaff)? You'd think a tale of Pentagon skulduggery on this scale would be the ideal chance to call the minutemen to the streets:

American troops were exposed to chemical weapons multiple times in the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while the Pentagon kept their discoveries of the expired or degraded weapons secret from investigators, fellow soldiers, and military doctors, according to a published report. 

Yes, that'd be the deftly reported centerpiece in Wednesday's Times, which Fox manages to acknowledge, along with some numbers in the next graf:

The New York Times reported late Tuesday that American troops reported finding approximately 5,000 chemical warheads, shells, or aviation bombs in the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On at least six occasions, soldiers were wounded by those weapons, which had been manufactured before 1991.

Not a bad summary of the nut graf, but the narrative seems somehow incomplete without the Times's subsequent graf:

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

Not to mention the details worked in later:
Read more »

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Negligent journalism

We do have sort of an obligation to report what candidates and their little friends say and do when they're out there urging you to make your comparative decisions in their favor. We don't have an obligation to help them lie:

Bush* said the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., with President Barack Obama and Sen. Majority leader Harry Reid has led to a recession where economic growth is only about 2%. He said under Republican leadership, the U.S. can grow at 3.5% to 4%.

"The dysfunction in Washington, D.C., with President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader** Harry Reid" is sort of random reporter-speak, but probably not too inaccurate a reflection of the speaker's opinion. Fine. "He said under Republican leadership, the U.S. can grow at 3.5% to 4%" -- well, even the AP would want a complementizing "that," and as opinions go, it's on the flying-unicorns side, but if that's his pitch, we need to let him make it.

The problem is in the middle: "A recession where economic growth is only about 2%." News flash for Jeb, and for the folks who wrote it and who waved it along into print: That's not a recession. The cheapest first-year-econ definition of a recession would be two straight quarters of GDP shrinkage. You don't have to like the way the economy is going, but if you say it's doing something it's not, you're in the same category as the poll unskewers and the goober at the New York Post who's going to come out any month now with definitive proof that the usurper's minions rigged the BLS employment data in fall 2012. That's not a good place for the press -- the honest press, at least -- to be.

* Jeb, if you're scoring along at home
** How do you hide a five-dollar bill from a reporter? Put it in the stylebook. "Sen." is short for Senator, not Senate, and "majority leader" should be capitalized before the name. Sheez.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 13, 2014

It isn't a threat ...

... until Mr. Ailes says it's a threat. Got that, you pesky generals?

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday described climate change as a national security threat -- at a time when the U.S. military is battling the Islamic State in the Mideast, responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and monitoring tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Shh! Nobody say "China" too loudly.

The Defense secretary addressed the issue during a speech in Peru, as the Pentagon released a comprehensive report on the "national security" challenges posed by rising global temperatures and "extreme weather events."
If Drudge ever runs out of "scare quotes," it's good to know he'll be able to borrow some from Fox.

Hagel described climate change as a "threat multiplier," saying it "has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today -- from infectious disease to armed insurgencies -- and to produce new challenges in the future."

The Pentagon's new report maps out four areas of climate change deemed the most threatening to the U.S. military -- rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more extreme weather and rising sea levels. And it warns about the impact they could have on food and water supplies, the environment and American security itself.

"Our militaries' readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed," Hagel said, addressing a conference of military leaders.

Which sounds, as it has for some years now, like a fairly sensible observation. Nor are the armed forces the only bunch of folks who see a security dimension in this issue.But that's probably not the point, is it?

Still, while the Pentagon and high-ranking officials have previously warned of the dangers of changing weather patterns and its side effects, the robust focus on the issue is raising questions at a time when the U.S. military is engaged in fighting the advancing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Always nice to be reminded you don't need the passive voice to be coy about agency. Or did we just miss the part about infectious diseases and armed insurgencies?

Citing the Islamic State's recent gains, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a statement: "It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the president and his administration would focus on climate change when there are other, legitimate, threats in the world."

Because it's just not a security story until you get the Kenyan into it somehow, is it? Now get off my lawn.

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Yes. And then again ...

We seem to have some of the fundamentals confused downtown. Polling relies on random sampling, not random selection of campaign cliches:

Schuette leads Totten 38%-32%, according to the most recent Free Press poll. But with a 4 percentage point margin of error, the numbers could be much closer. And that gives hope to the Totten campaign, especially considering of the 600 people surveyed statewide 70% said they didn't know who he was.

Yes, the numbers could be much closer. On the other hand, there's an equally good chance that they could be much farther apart. The "margin of error" doesn't just apply to both proportions; it applies to both directions. And it isn't magic. It's a calculation. It expresses the range within which the sample value -- the proportion of respondents who say they're planning to vote for Candidate A or Candidate B -- accurately represents the population value, which is A's or B's support among all likely voters, or registered voters, or adults with landlines, or whatever it was you sampled.

In this case, there are about two chances in three that the sample is within 2 points of the population value* -- meaning that if the real split was 36-34, we'd have a pretty accurate poll. But it would be an equally accurate reflection of a 40-30 split.

There's another then-again to worry about. Voters who can't identify a candidate in a survey might come to support the candidate once they figure out who she or he is. And then again, they might not. If the story is meant to shed some light on what's often an obscure statewide race, it should stop spinning its wheels and get to work. 

* It's fractionally smaller in a race like this; the Totten vs. Schuette proportion is 32-38, but the Totten vs. not-Totten proportion is 32-68, so Totten's margin of error at 95% confidence is about 3.7 points. In a poll that reports lots of different races, it's easiest to calculate sampling error as if everything was split 50-50.


Basics of editing: Forbidden verbs

Here's the basic cutline rule again: Don't tell me what I'm seeing. Tell me why I'm seeing it. Follow that rule and you'll never be tempted to write "celebrates" when you can write about what's being celebrated. If the touchdown was, as the game story contends, the most significant play of the first half, borrow that description: "Michigan's Devin Furness took a pass that appeared headed for a Penn State defender and walked it in for a 43-yard touchdown in the first quarter."

As for "shares a laugh with," just don't.

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lying with statistics: Ur doin it wrong

Now that we're inside four weeks to the election, it's probably worth reviewing some of the Magic Phrases of political punditry. Here are three that should raise immediate red flags:
  • "Real Clear Politics average"
  • "Within the margin of error"
  • "Statistical dead heat"
If you see any of those in a campaign thumbsucker, you should assume that the writer is either (a) amusingly ill-informed or (b) attempting to blow smoke up your butt on the assumption that you'll fall for anything that sounds entertaining. Which will it be there, National Review Online?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) and Republican challenger Scott Brown continue to find themselves neck-and-neck in the New Hampshire Senate race less than four weeks away from the election.

The latest NH1/New England College poll shows Shaheen leading Brown 48.5 percent to 46 percent, falling within the roughly three-point margin of error. Just 3 percent of voters remain undecided at this point.

Well, not quite. The lead is 48.5 to 45.9, according to the polling agency, and the margin of sampling error -- which you really should leave to one decimal place* -- is 2.7 points, meaning (at 95% confidence) that the result is right at the so-called "margin." Whether you're a tenth of a point above or a tenth of a point below the arbitrary number that's misapplied here, the best bet is that Shaheen is leading. All you have to do is turn the confidence level down to about two-thirds. If that's your idea of a dead heat, you shouldn't go to the track by yourself.

There's no such bogus statisculating in the second example:

Senator Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) has closed the gap with independent candidate Greg Orman, according to a new poll in what has become one of the increasingly competitive races this cycle.
After polls showing Roberts trailing by as many as ten percentage points last week, a new CNN/ORC poll of likely voters in the Sunflower State finds Roberts leading Orman 49 percent to 48 percent. The survey finds both candidates above water with their favorable-unfavorable ratings.
In case you don't feel like calculating it,** the standard error for that survey is about .019, for a margin of sampling error (95% confidence) of 3.7 percentage points. The "slight lead" isn't as good a bet as the "statistical tie."
Well, that's not unusual. The party press has often been the sort of place where you hear what you want, regardless of those pesky confidence intervals. And this isn't the National Review's first county fair. If it's only trying to lighten the rubes' wallets a little, that's between National Review and the rubes; it might get to the county line ahead of them, and it might not. But if it's in the habit of deceiving its masters, it might want to watch out. Those bills can come due in a hurry,  

* This poll has a sample of 1,286; you could get a margin of 3 points -- OK, 3.04 -- at 95% confidence with 250 fewer respondents.
** Real Clear Politics is a useful archive of current survey results and sample sizes, but averaging a bunch of estimates -- particularly estimates with different CIs -- is never a good idea. The commentary files can be pretty hilarious, though.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The endless capacity for self-delusion

You'd think we would have learned in the 2012 election -- or, you know, maybe back when Iraq invaded Kuwait -- that the one thing the courtier press can't afford to do is give bad information to the party. When that happens, we get a condition called "bounded rationality": leaders make decisions that appear perfectly rational, as long as nobody minds that the information they're based on is clueless. And in that light, Bill Kristol is hard to distinguish from the advisers who told Saddam Hussein that invading Kuwait would be a nearly consequence-free way of settling his lingering interstate disputes over slant-drilling and those pesky loans from the earlier war:

The new Quinnipiac poll of the New Jersey Senate contest shows Jeff Bell only 11 points down to Cory Booker, 51 to 40 percent, among likely voters. It goes without saying that a race can move a dozen points in the final five weeks of a campaign—especially when a little known challenger (but one who's well-regarded by those who do know of him) is taking on a pro-Obama incumbent who's barely above 50 percent in an anti-Obama, anti-incumbent year.
... But take a further look at the poll results. Booker leads Bell, 51-40. Seventy-six percent of Booker supporters and 84 percent of Bell supporters say their mind is made up. Do the math. Among those whose mind is made up, Booker leads Bell 39 to 34 percent.
So Booker's hard lead over Bell is a mere 5 points.

"Hard lead" is kind of a novel statistical concept, so maybe it's rude to point out that with a +/- 3-point maximum margin of sampling error* (at 95% confidence for the full sample of 1,058), this one's also pretty close to the traditional standard of statistical significance. But by all means continue:

He'll outspend Bell over the next month. But money can't buy you love. Sometimes, it can't even buy you votes. If New Jersey flips in November, we'll remember this Quinnipiac poll as Jeff Bell's fire bell in the night.
Or not. Two more recent polls (CBS/NYT, in the field Sept. 20-Oct. 1 with 2,011 likely voters, and Monmouth, in the field Oct. 2-5 with 477 likely voters) give Booker even larger leads. Without Quinnipiac's "is your mind made up, or do you think you might change your mind before the election?" question, we can't calculate "hard support" in those polls, but let's follow Kristol's suggestion and take a "deeper look" at the Quinnipiac results anyway. Since we're all making up our own stats, we can test the Uppity Black Guy Factor: How is support for one smooth-talking black dude related to opposition to another smooth-talking black dude?
Read more »

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 05, 2014

You don't know, Jack

Did we poll the rest of the Black Stripes, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

An article last Sunday about the ubiquity of digital video recording on iPhones misstated, at one point, the surname of a rock musician who had complained about the glowing digital devices of his audience members. As the article correctly noted elsewhere, he is Jack White, not “Mr. Black.”

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Noah and the whale, Jonah and the ark

How'd things go in Vacation Bible School there, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

A picture caption on Wednesday with a theater review of “The Old Man and the Old Moon,” at the New Victory Theater in Manhattan, reversed the identities of two actors in some editions. Ryan Melia is at the top and Ben Ferguson is at the left. And the review, citing influences on the show, misidentified the book of the Bible in which a man winds up in the belly of a giant fish. It is Jonah, not Genesis.

And you can look it up.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

HAHAHAHAHA watermelon!

How does Gategate look in the cold light of day there, Boston Herald?

And what's the latest on the apologia front?

Boston Herald cartoonist Jerry Holbert took to the airwaves this morning to apologize for a political cartoon that set off a social media firestorm after appearing on the paper's editorial page.

“I want to apologize to anyone I offended who was hurt by the cartoon,” Holbert said this morning on Boston Herald Radio. “It was certainly, absolutely, not my intention.”

... Holbert claimed he came up with the idea to use watermelon flavor after finding “kids Colgate watermelon flavor” toothpaste in his bathroom at home.

“I was completely naive or innocent to any racial connotations,” Holbert said. “I wasn’t thinking along those lines at all.”

Got it. I mean, it's not like the Kenyan's brushing his teeth with a chicken bone or anything.
Read more »

Labels: , ,