Tag: Journalism

Simon Jenkins, You Win


640px-Simon_Jenkins_at_Policy_Fight_ClubThe only explanation for this column I can fathom is this one: Simon Jenkins placed a bet, probably a large one, that there is simply nothing — literally nothing — he can write so insane that The Guardian won’t publish it.

Mr. Jenkins, chapeau.

If Charles Manson has found love, surely that’s a good thing?
… “Love behind bars” may need to be treated with scepticism. But its restorative capacity should not be dismissed. Emotional comfort applies to all ages and conditions.

A Modest Appreciation of Vox.com


Do be sure to check out this brilliant, marvelous, incandescently stupendous piece by our very own Messiah of the Moment, Max “I used to be Otto von Bismarck in a previous life” Fisher, in which Fisher explains the Obama Administration’s attempt to deter Vladimir Putin from gobbling up any of the Baltic states. Especially wonderful and heartwarming is Fisher’s tendency to breathlessly explain the principles of deterrence to his audience as though (a) he just learned about those principles and (b) his audience consists exclusively of two-year olds. Consider the following excerpt:

President Obama gave a speech on Wednesday, in a city most Americans have never heard of, committing the United States to possible war against Russia. He said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Western military alliance better known as NATO, would fight to defend eastern European members like Estonia against any foreign aggression. In other words, if Russian President Vladimir Putin invades Estonia or Latvia as he invaded Ukraine, then Putin would trigger war with the US and most of Europe.

Member Post


Forgive me for not writing this post two years ago, but Comcast only recently made House of Cards available on demand. A good friend of mine who writes about pop culture for a living urged me to watch House of Cards. He’s a liberal who likes to rib me, but he assured me that the […]

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What Are the Worst Journalism Cliches?


shutterstock_158484926Earlier this week at the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada compiled a list of the 150 worst journalistic cliches. As a writer who’s not immune to falling prey to a few of these tics, I winced a few times. As an editor who stalks and kills many of these formulations in the wild, however, I was more often drunk with delight. Here are a few examples of instances where I think the Post’s contempt is deserved:

  • “Needless to Say”— This is a phrase that announces its own irrelevance. Taken literally, the words are committing suicide. I look forward to the day when word processors are programmed to automatically delete it 
  • “Broken System” — Worth banning if only to shut Norm Ornstein up for awhile. Seriously, can we get a blanket prohibition on thumb-sucking opinion pieces that elide the distinction between “Washington doesn’t work” and “Washington doesn’t work the way I want it to”?
  • Much Ballyhooed” — I’m more forgiving that most of writing-specific diction. I’d never write a column the same way I’d write a speech. Different styles are appropriate for different media. There’s only so much elasticity permitted, however. “Ballyhoo” takes it too far. Never employ vocabulary that could plausibly have been originated by Dr. Seuss.
  • “Twitterati’ — Italian for “writers who are falling behind on their deadlines.”
  • “The Narrative” (unless referring to a style of writing) — First, it’s just an incredibly sterile phrase. More importantly, though, it’s gateway to a sort of meta-commentary. I never trusts journalists who talk about “the narrative” as if it’s set in stone. They have the power to change it. Give me the facts and I’ll make sense of them for myself.

As with all such exercises, a lot of these judgments are subjective. The Post flags “inflection point,” for example, which I regard as a phrase with no ready substitute, even if it’s a bit overused.

Likewise, I find the criticism of “begs the question” excessively pedantic. Yes, it has a specific meaning in a philosophical context, but the more common usage is so deeply embedded into the way we talk that it’s probably not worth resisting. Will the world really be that much better a place if everyone says “invites the question” instead?

What the Piketty Errors Mean


PikettyRemember the Reinhart/Rogoff spreadsheet error? In the event that you do not, here is a summary. Those who follow debates between economists will recall that the spreadsheet error led to all kinds of excoriations of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff on the part of liberal economists, who claimed that they were responsible for austerity policies that killed off economic growth. Even Stephen Colbert got in on the act. Their spreadsheet error was considered to be the worst tragedy that befell the planet since that one time when Oedipus and Jocasta had a super-awesome first date.

Of course, the excoriations were vastly overstated, but that didn’t stop intellectual opponents of Reinhart and Rogoff from engaging in hyperbole on a grand scale. Now that Thomas Piketty has been caught making his own significant errors, comparisons have naturally been made between Piketty on the one hand, and Reinhart and Rogoff on the other.

These comparisons fail. Reinhart and Rogoff may have made a spreadsheet error, but there is a very plausible argument that the error did not affect their conclusions, and there was no serious accusation on anyone’s part — not even the most severe critics — that Reinhart and Rogoff engaged in intellectual or scholarly fraud.

Facts Are Stubborn Things . . . As Thomas Piketty Is Beginning to Find Out


I have bought Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and while I have posted many an item that takes issue with the books claims and conclusions concerning wealth inequality, I do plan on reading Piketty; his book has made quite the intellectual and cultural impact, and although I know what his basic arguments are, I want to be sure that I read the whole of the book to be fully aware of his claims.

But even before reading the book, one can conclude certain things about Piketty, as my previous blog posts indicate. And today, we learn that we may well be able to conclude one more thing still about Piketty, his research, and his arguments: They may be completely wrong. And yes, those words were worth emphasizing.

Racket Journalism


mugofcoffeedThis morning while looking for something to read with coffee round #1, I happened to click on an Andrew Klavan tweet (hey, Ricochet, that Twitter sidebar is becoming embarrassingly addictive), and Klavan pointed to this article on Yahoo. It’s by Rebecca Dana, and it was a pleasant enough diversion until I read the quoted paragraph below.

Is there something about the traditional game-show format—its reinforcement of old-fashioned family values, its populist sensibility, its neat 22-minute crystallization of the American dream—that draws a more conservative type to host? Is it that the show’s core audience, residing in the flyover states, generally prefers a certain red-blooded sort of man in charge? Is it all just a silly coincidence?

At which point I spewed said coffee. No. There may be a curious correlation between conservatism and game shows, but no, there’s no cause.

As We Await the End Times


harun-yahyaThe art of writing a first paragraph is said to lie in the ability to draw the reader in.

I would say that Lily Lynch’s remarkable new piece in The Balkanist passes that test very well indeed:

Harun Yahya is said to be the messianic leader of an apocalyptic Islamic sex cult. He’s also the owner of a Turkish television station called A9, and the host of his own religious talk show, which just might make your eyeballs pop out of your skull. The entire set and everyone on it glow like irradiated ultraviolet rays. Five amazing looking women usually co-host the show, wearing things like false rainbow eyelashes, wigs, and diamond-studded Versace bondage gear. The backdrop is a blinding fake lavender cityscape. Conversations often focus on how materialism and Darwinism are dead, how to recognize the face of a real Muslim, and how Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — with whom the host is rumored to enjoy friendly relations — is “one of the important figures for the End Times”.

An Outrageous Gesture from the Pulitzer Prize Committee — John Yoo


I’m not surprised that the Pulitzer Prize committee gave the Washington Post and The Guardian US a prize for pursuing the sensationalistic story of Edward Snowden —even though the story is a disaster for the country. Unlike some on both the right and the left, I do not see Snowden as any kind of hero. He should be returned to the United States for prosecution. It is another sign of this Administration’s weakness in foreign affairs that it cannot persuade other countries to turn him over.

I don’t, however, think we need to automatically read the prize as a vindication of Snowden’s crimes. Awarding a prize to a newspaper that covered a hurricane or runs a photo of a grisly crime does not somehow justify the underlying tragedy. Yes, there is a difference here, in that the harm comes from the public release of the material. I’m not sure, however, that the distinction between the event itself and publicity is key.

Robert Thomson Offers a Glimpse of Things to Come


Interviewing him for Uncommon Knowledge, I served up several questions in a row that all but begged Robert Thomson, chief executive officer of News Corp —which owns the Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, and more than 150 other newspapers — to weep and moan about the way technology has squeezed the profits out of journalism.

Thomson wouldn’t bite.

Robert Thomson, a Journalist’s Journalist, Explains Why a Lot of Journalists Ought to be Spanked


Since becoming a copyboy back home in Australia at 18, journalism is the only life Robert Thomson has ever known—and he has made a brilliant career of it as a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times, editor of the Financial Times, editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, and now chief executive officer of News Corp, the newspaper company, built by Rupert Murdoch, that owns more than 150 titles.

When I interviewed him for Uncommon Knowledge, I tried to get Robert going on journalism-as-a-noble profession.

A Debate on Free Speech


I recently accepted an invitation from Jeffrey Rosen at the National Constitution Center to talk with my University of Chicago colleague Geoffrey Stone about the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, establishing the standards by which reporting about public officials can be considered to be defamation or libel.

In this conversation, we discuss whether this was a positive step forward for the free press or whether it needs to be revisited. Hear the debate below:

How to Write a Lead


shutterstock_13795741Yesterday morning, the lead article in The Wall Street Journal started with the following paragraph:

More than 95% of Crimeans voted to break way from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, according to preliminary results, in a referendum that raises the stakes in the most acute East-West confrontations since the Cold War.

The headline read, “Crimea Votes to Secede, Join Russia.” Underneath the sub-headline read, “Overwhelming Support to Separate From Ukraine Raises East-West Tensions; U.S. Prepares Sanctions.” Think about that for a second. Then, ask yourself what is wrong with that lead and with those headlines. Suppose for the moment that The Wall Street Journal is a newspaper. Suppose that its aim is to inform its readers about what is going on. Then, rewrite the lead and the headlines so that the story actually does what it is supposed to do. This is, I think, a useful exercise — for it raises a question of some importance. Are there any editors at The Wall Street Journal worthy of the name? For those of you who have no experience in writing for a daily newspaper, let me add something. The newspaper is written under the presumption that readers are in a hurry, that very few readers will get past the first few paragraphs of an article, and that one should never, never, never bury the lead by putting the most important information in the body of the article. So think about this article in this fashion. What is wrong with the lead?