Saturday, February 28, 2015

Exterminate the brutes

If the question is whether Roger Ailes really wants a race war for Christmas, one reasonable answer might be: Sure, it beats the heck out of a Red Ryder BB gun.

The top story here isn't all that interesting, unless you're deeply interested in mediocre features written at long distance. The fun story is the one in the No. 2 slot (this being a Friday afternoon homepage, a story so good it was back Saturday night), in which a brave Democrat is apparently -- well, explicitly -- "under fire" for daring to challenge the usurper "over radical Islam."

Like most Fox stories, it's not literally fabricated, but it does rely on certain best-case understandings of real events -- the kind in which "I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head" is a perfectly standard representation of "I saw some really gross pictures, so shut up." The fun is in tracking down the parts of the 1,160-word tale that support the claims in the display type, which is worth cataloging in some detail:

Dem under fire for taking on
Obama over radical Islam

The hed on the story itself has a little more room to play with scare quotes:

'Knives are out': Hawaii Dem faces backlash for taking on Obama over 'Islamist' extremism

... and the link itself holds lessons of its own: "hawaii-rising-dem-star-risks-future-to-take-on-obama-over-islamic-extremism"

The theme should be pretty clear: The craven libruls are turning on one of their own, now that she's exposed the Kenyan's lexical cowardice for what it is:

She was Hawaii's golden girl after winning a seat in Congress with support from top liberal groups, but now that Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has been critical of President Obama, her political reputation in the bluest of blue states is taking a hit. 

Hold that thought!
Read more »

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

No, not 'related'

If your eyes and brain work together the way we describe it in design classes, you probably figured out pretty fast what the picture here illustrates, right? Even if you read the caption:

Missionary Rev. Phyllis Sortor, 87, of the Free Methodist Church was kidnapped Tuesday by unknown gunmen in the village of Emiworo.

And where in Syria might that be? Well, if you look at the last of the allegedly related developments in the Wednesday roundup:

Missionary taken: Masked gunmen abducted an American missionary in southeastern Nigeria, her church’s website and Nigerian authorities said Tuesday. The Free Methodist Church said Rev. Phyllis Sortor was taken late Monday from a school compound in Emiworo in Kogi state, where it said she developed a close affinity with the Fulani people — semi-nomadic herdsmen — and helped open schools for their children. The kidnapping motive wasn’t known, but Nigeria has had kidnappings by criminal groups for ransom, as well as by Islamist militants. 

 Which bears a strong resemblance to this Los Angeles Times story:

The motive of the kidnapping wasn’t known, but Nigeria has seen dozens of kidnappings of expatriates by criminal groups for ransom, as well as abductions of Westerners by Islamist militant groups, including Boko Haram.

The generally paranoid New York Daily News was more specific by Tuesday afternoon:

Thugs then contacted a friend of Sortor and demanded 60 million naira, or nearly $300,000, for her safe return, said Kogi Police CommissionerAdeyemi Ogunjemilusi, who speculated the kidnapping is the work of a criminal gang. The terrorist group Boko Haram does not usually operate in the area, he said.

When even the Fair 'n' Balanced Network is declaring Thursday that "they are most likely a small time criminal gang and not the feared Islamist group Boko Haram," you might want to consider the circumstances under which you cram everything into the Scary Brown People Roundup in the future. We have networks whose mission in life is to remind you that your way of life is under threat at every turn; when the allegedly librul media sing the same tune, we should be concerned about the future of the profession.

And in the You Kids Get Off My Lawn department: Does everybody over 30 just look the same to the night desk? All the other sources seem to give the kidnap victim's age as 70, not 87.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Another day on Planet Drudge

How does one even dare to get out of bed some mornings?
Things seem somewhat less sexy in the AP lede Drudge links to:

GENEVA (AP) — Edging toward a historic compromise, the U.S. and Iran reported progress Monday on a deal that would clamp down on Tehran's nuclear activities for at least 10 years but then slowly ease restrictions on programs that could be used to make atomic arms.

... and positively bureaucratic by the penultimate graf:

For the United States, the goal is to extend to at least a year the period that Iran would need to surreptitiously "break out" toward nuclear weapons development. Daryl Kimball of the Washington-based Arms Control Association said that with the IAEA's additional monitoring, the deal taking shape leaves "more than enough time to detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future."

Since lying seems to be on everyone's mind these days, is it fair to quote Walter Lippmann again?
If I lie in a lawsuit involving the fate of my neighbor's cow, I can go to jail. But if I lie to a million readers in a matter involving war and peace, I can lie my head off, and, if I choose the right series of lies, be entirely irresponsible.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hyphens: Ur still doin it wrong

Q. Should "square foot" be hyphenated when used in front of a noun. For example "a 100 square-foot covered porch..." – from thornton, Pa. on Sat, Feb 21, 2015
A. Correct.

Partially correct at best -- yes, "square foot" should be hyphenated, but AP style also says pretty clearly that compounds of numbers and dimensions are hyphenated before nouns they modify. If you should hyphenate "the 5-foot-6-inch man" and "the 5-foot man" (pp. 76), you'd certainly want to hyphenate the whole of "100-square-foot covered porch." Why would the rule go away just because "square foot" is two words? After all, the "hyphens" entry itself says "use hyphens to link all the words in the compound except the adverb very and all adverbs that end in -ly" (p. 292).

"The fewer hyphens, the better" is the wrong way to go about setting up a rule. What you want is the right number of good hyphens and no bad hyphens. If that means you write "ice cream cone" on one page and "ice-cream-cone-shaped UFO" on another, fine. That's not inconsistent; it's consistent about avoiding foolish consistency.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

On answers and demanding them

It's not entirely coincidence that these were the second and third top stories at your Fair 'n' Balanced Homepage on Saturday morning. Both of them shine a light on the achievements of our friends in what's now known as "strategic communication."

First, it's reasonable to conclude that the vicious loonies of the Islamic State movement have adapted the lessons of 1970s-style "siege and barricade" terrorism to the age of interactive media. They don't even have to go to the Fox News budget meeting. They can get a story on the front page whenever they want.* A little skepticism about the veracity of any particular bit of propaganda is a good idea; if Fox wants to raise such concerns in the same place it usually does ISIS' bidding, good for Fox.

That suggests, of course, that when someone on your own side who knows exactly how to land on your front page pushes the button, your first reaction should probably be: Hmm. I wonder why he wants a chunk of my front page for this bit of information. Not, in other words, "Top Republican senators Friday demanded answers." Aside from conflating "we" with "top Republican senators," which is delightfully honest in its own little way, Fox is missing a chance to learn from its mistakes. When somebody just cold-ass beats you to the basket, it's probably better to ask why you got beaten, rather than to suggest that the other guy is a traitor for exploiting your friendly gullibility.

Because it's Saturday, and because realism and deranged exceptionalism will ever be at odds, here's your weekend Hans Morgenthau quote:

The first lesson the student of international politics must learn and never forget is that the complexities of international affairs make simple solutions and trustworthy predictions impossible. Here the scholar and the charlatan part company.

Charles Krauthammer, George Will --- call your office

* If you're reconsidering the degree to which you should help them in that effort, you should.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Three decade-old zombie rules

Q. Which is correct: The 20-million-year-old scroll or the 20 million-year-old scroll? – from Tucson, Ariz. on Fri, Feb 20, 2015
A. The second, though prehistoric dates are better phrased without a compound modifier: an object estimated to be 20 million years old. That long predates humans so it couldn't be a scroll.
With respect to our friends at Ask the Editor (who, to their great credit, introduce the annual revisions to the gospel in front of a room full of rabid style nerds, which takes no small amount of sand) -- no. That's just wrong, and it's wrong on a lot of levels, so stop it before you do any more damage to the cause of style.
AP style, like many, exempts number compounds of the million, billion and percent flavor from the general rule on hyphenating preposed modifiers -- reasoning, quite sensibly, that "$7.82 billion budget" and "4 percent increase" simply don't create the sort of ambiguity you get from "man eating blancmange" vs. "man-eating blancmange." The problem comes when the little compound turns into a bigger compound: in the example I still use in class, when a dozen photos taken 20 or so years ago become "two decade-old photos." It's charitable to call that one ambiguous; the word you want is "wrong."
You could always write a rule that says "use hyphens to be clear" and count on the grownups in the room to figure it out on the fly. They generally do, but human beings -- especially copy editors -- are rule-loving creatures. If you're going to write a hyphen rule, write one that isn't likely to paint you into a corner: "Hyphenate the whole damn compound."
While you're at it? "Prehistoric" doesn't seem like a very intuitive cutoff point for when a bunch of numbers ought to be clumped into a compound. And if you think something couldn't be a scroll because it predates humans and their silly artifacts, you haven't been paying attention.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In the land of the tabloids

Just another day in the City that Never Sleeps, huh?

Alex Rodriguez smacks of phoniness, and unsurprisingly, New Yorkers are seeing right through his latest attempt to set things right: a handwritten apology he published Tuesday afternoon.

Yep, gotta get up pretty early in the morning t put one over on those New Yorkers! Unless you're wondering what the guy in the tie is doing there (since he doesn't actually appear in the story or anything). Wonder what the inset says?

Well, that clears a lot of things up.


The morning after

The paczki were half off at the Holiday today, but those elegant variations were still fetching the cover price at the morning fishwrap:

The folks at Lazybones Smokehouse thought so, putting a twist on the annual pre-Lenten paczki tradition by topping the deep-fried dough with sweetened maple bacon. This Fat Tuesday, like the previous four, workers have come in a bit earlier to prepare the sweet treat ahead of the store's opening.

By the way? Always read the morning paper before you start in to writing. That way, if one of your colleagues has declared "paczki" to be plural unto the end of time Amen in the Tuesday paper, you reduce the risk of sneaking the singular -- "a paczki" -- into your own story.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Today in elongated nummy fruit

How many Popular Orange Vegetables can we pack into the first few grafs of the annual paczki story?
  • The popular treats
  • The nummy waistline-busters
  • Sweet, sweet tasty goodness
  • A delicious, sugar-dusted pastry
All this and a case of greengrocer apostrophe: "First thing's first." (Things get worse in the online edition: She says she's up to six so far, "but just like the calories; whose counting?")

Now: Is it true that the pluralized "paczkis" isn't a real word? That's an interesting case of where to put the prescriptive foot down. "Paczki" acts like a singular in the lede -- the ad doesn't say "Now comes Millers time," after all, and the bit before dinner isn't cocktails hour. Nor does the Freep seem to have a problem with "bedouins," which is also formed by putting an "s" on a plural noun, and elsewhere, plural "paczkis" is fairly widespread. Best suggestion? Write your own rule and try to stick to it.

But, please -- no "nummy," ever, under any circumstances.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

With a load of iron ore ...

Should we start a pool for when or whether we see a correction on this one?

It began in 1879 with the discovery of massive iron deposits that were big enough to merit giving the name Iron Mountain to the town that grew above it, and vast enough to bring more than 28 million pounds of iron to the surface before it closed in 1934 after the Great Depression hit.

Copy editors aren't supposed to be impressed by numbers; they're supposed to be polite but skeptical. Is that a lot? Compared to what? If at this point they're humming along with Gordon Lightfoot, that's a good start, because the next step is figuring out how many pounds in "26,000 tons more* than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty." That's a lot of iron ore, and you don't need a calculator to get 52 million pounds** from it.

That's iron ore, not iron itself, so while you're asking how much ore it takes to produce a pound of iron, you could amuse yourself with a few more questions: how long the Edmund Fitzgerald plied the lakes (17 years), whether it made only one trip a year (no), how much iron ore the US produces these days (52 million tonnes in 2013, according to the Wikipedias), and so on. I'd kind of like to know.

Should we expect reporters to be perfect? No. We should expect them to be busy -- and human. They're entitled, in turn, to expect their employers to keep enough editors on hand to help mitigate those conditions.

* No Michigan newspaper would ever say "26 tons," would it?
** Apparently Gordon meant long tons, or 58.5 million pounds.

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You keep using that word

Let's just go ahead and assume that Judge Jeanine's reference is to Sunday morning's top story at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network:

Islamic State has reportedly seized al-Baghdadi, in Iraq’s Anbar Province, 5 miles from an air base staffed by U.S. Marines, as the terror group continues its push beyond its bases in Syria and Iraq in an attempt to establish militant affiliates in other countries.

Things tend to get a little less sexy when people return your emails:

On Sunday, a U.S. Central Command spokesman refuted reports that ISIS had taken al-Baghdadi. "Al-Baghdadi has not fallen to ISIL or been seized by them," said U.S. Central Command, in an email to Fox News. 

... but taken together, the two items still make the same point: We're in trouble, and we sure could use a cowboy --- rather than a feckless, dithering usurper -- to get us out of it. This presentation is part of a larger securitizing move: to borrow a concept from the Copenhagen School, the declaration of a crisis so severe that if we don't fix it now, there won't be a "we" to fix it in the future. That's the "existential threat" that Average Joe is identifying, and his prescription is clear from the photos (if not from the column itself): More Reagan, less of this dithering-in-the-name-of-prudence.

It's worth remembering, you'd like to think, that the cowboy era wasn't always healthy for US interests abroad.** The Marines might have particularly sharp memories of Reagan's bumbling in the Middle East, but the news outlets that have been having such sport lately with "Hillary's War" on Libya might also want to pause and think about the outcomes of Reagan's own Libya intervention. Passing the ammunition while the Soviet Union shot itself in the foot in Afghanistan had its moments, but it too wasn't without long-term consequences. Should things go deeply awry in the eastern Mediterranean, requiring someone Fox News detests to go in and negotiate with the evildoers for the release of a captured pilot or something, remember that it's been tried.

Because this is also the sort of time in which all sorts of charlatans take up the banner of realism, it's worth quoting old Hans Morgenthau*** at some length:

The lighthearted equation between a particular nationalism and the counsels of Providence is morally indefensible, for it is the very sin of pride against which the Greek tragedians and the Biblical prophets have warned rulers and ruled. That equation is also politically pernicious, for it is liable to engender the distortion in judgment which, in the blindness of crusading frenzy, destroys nations and civilizations -- in the name of moral principle, ideal, or God himself.

* I've made them closer than they actually appear at The Fox Nation; there was originally a story between them vertically, and now there are more
** Conveniently, things were largely in the hands of adults by the time the Warsaw Pact actually started to fall apart.
*** "Politics among Nations," 1985 edition

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Man eating tiger

We're more into the discourtesy zone than the realm of out-and-out confusion here, but Fowler's point remains: We have hyphens in part so that it's easy to tell "man eating tiger" from "man-eating tiger." Wichita got it right (at least once) in the text; why not spare a hyphen for the hed?

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Let not the right hand ...

Why are Rupert Murdoch's flying monkeys so angry about a comedy show on cable TV? Apparently, the fake news isn't fake enough:

Though Stewart has often claimed he does a “fake news show,” “The Daily Show” isn’t that. It’s a real news show punctuated with puns, jokes, asides and the occasional moment of staged sanctimony.

... Stewart is a journalist: an irresponsible and unprofessional one.

Odd. The Post is usually more careful about who gets to call whom a journalist. But don't let the Kenyan conspiracy distract you from the real offense against freedom here:

... Stewart uses his funnyman status as a license to dispense with even the most minimal journalistic standards. Get both sides of the story?

Hey, I’m just a comedian, man. Try to be responsible about what the real issues are? Dude, that’s too heavy, we just want to set up the next d- -k joke.

Well, that seems unusually pr---sh for the paper that ... who was that failed politician again, Post hed writers?

Weiner's poll rising (4/13/2013)

Weiner to seek erection, will announce bid for mayor (5/15/2013)
Cuomo Beats Weiner ... then goes limp (5/24/2013*)
Who's screwed by Weiner entry (5/26/2013)
Weiner beat goes on -- and on! (7/31/2013)
Weiner pulls another Twitter boner (6/13/2014)

Sounds like the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. Indeed, here's the lede from a 2013 column by -- could it be the same Kyle Smith?
Read more »

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Imagine that

Of all the Foxtastic news to comment on in the past few days (and yes, kids, the Fair 'n' Balanced Network has been busy), pause a moment to ponder this one:

As conflicts and civil wars rage across the Middle East and North Africa, a shadowy covert cell operating under the Iranian government is fueling the bloodshed.

"Smuggling arms to Mideast," of course, isn't that much of a challenge for Iran -- which, being in "the Mideast" itself, doesn't have to do much more than walk to the mailbox. More to the point, perhaps, is the idea that somehow smuggling "illicit arms to the Mideast," thereby "fueling the bloodshed" in all sorts of grisly ways, is a uniquely Iranian proposition. Given Fox's unique expertise in deliberately fueling Middle Eastern bloodshed through illicit arms transfers, we could perhaps be forgiven for expecting a deeper level of insight.

Lead stories never happen by accident. That's as true of the grownup press as it is of the party press. Iran is the top story on Wednesday evening because Fox is done for the moment with spreading random fear of brown people and dancing on Brian Williams's grave; it has more important things to turn your attention to. That's not to suggest that any form of fabrication is appropriate for journalism, but to ask whether we might want to consider habitual lying in the interest of shaping public policy as somehow different from habitual lying in the interest of self-aggrandizement.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Read it before you post it

Dear friends at the Old Reliable: If you can't be bothered to read it before you publish it, why should anyone be bothered to pay for it? 

But Smith endured, managing the stress with equanimity. After all the challenges, he came back to reign in the ACC again before retiring in xxx at age 66.

Considering that you said "1997" earlier -- well, fill in your own strained metaphor for basketball ineptitude here.

True, the canned obituary is one of those traditions than can lead to problems -- say, when the writer has moved on to more prominent pastures before the file has to be used. And I'd be surprised if any desk of this century has a quiet enough night that someone can safely utter the ancient phrase "Hey, let's polish up the pre-obits a little." All the more reason for a bit more care on the front end:
His commitment to building a championship program strained his marriage, however. He divorced his first wife, xxx xxxx in xxxx, with whom he had three children. In xxx he married xxxxxxx, and they had two children.

In fairness, the xxxx and xxxxxx have been cleaned up* -- but the sister is still "Joanne Ewing" on her first appearance and "Joan Ewing" on her second. The mystery guard "Jed Dalton" turns into "Ged" in one quote, suggesting he might be the Ged Doughton on this roster. And copy editors were put on this earth to wring redundancies out of sentences like this:

In 1971, Smith also treated the media covering his Tar Heels in the 1971 NIT in New York City to dinner at Mama Leone’s.

Newsroom lore has long held that sports audiences are the pickiest. Whether that's true or whether it's the sort of morality-play-disguised-as-ghost-story that we tell young copy editors at bedtime is a question for the ages. But your Dean Smith obit is going to be read far beyond the confines of the sports pages, meaning a lot of people have a chance to form judgments on your outfit's professionalism. Doing stuff right really does make a difference.
* Yes, the story's still a little confused about "X's and O's" vs. "X&O."

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Sunday, February 01, 2015

Groundhog Day warning

Dear friends in newsrooms: Remember, no "Bowled over" in Monday's paper. No "Super finish." No refurbished press releases about sickouts or dangerously low water pressure in America's toilets. And never, ever, any "celebrates." Lest the next thing you hear after "I Got You, Babe" is a little -- livelier