The Invention of Snark*

There used to be a movie review show on the Disney Channel by kids for kids. I don’t recall the name, and I don’t even remember watching it that often, but one review has stood out in my mind all these years, as clear as if I had watched it yesterday.

The movie they were reviewing was called “Amazing Grace and Chuck“. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s OK – based on the review the kids gave it, it was not memorable. It was about a young boy (Chuck) who is befriended by a professional basketball player (Amazing Grace). Together, they decide to stop nuclear proliferation. Very late-1980s socially conscious stuff.

After panning it for being too simplistic and too saccharine in its message, they showed a clip where Chuck was talking to an adult about alarming speech. The adult gives Chuck the old chestnut, “You can’t yell out ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Chuck retorts, “But, sir, what if there actually is a fire?”

The show then cuts back to one of the kid reviewers who, in a mocking voice, repeats the line: “But, sir, what if there actually is a fire?” This is the moment that has stuck out so clearly in my mind for so many years, and I think I’ve finally figured out why. That was my first exposure to snark. I didn’t like it. I still don’t.

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Father Knows Best

With all of the shakeups happening in the administration and, more importantly, within the CIA, I’ve been wondering how pere Bush, a former CIA director, is feeling about all this. He’s been famously mum about his feelings towards his son’s administration, at least beyond the expected fatherly pride.

I couldn’t remember Bush Sr.’s actual role in the CIA, so I looked it up at Wikipedia. In addition to confirming his role in the agency, I found this blurb under the heading about the first Gulf War (emphasis mine):

In a foreign policy move that would later be questioned, President Bush achieved his stated objectives of “liberating” Kuwait and forcing Iraqi withdrawal, then ordered a cessation of combat operations allowing Saddam Hussein to stay in power. His Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney noted that invading the country would get the United States “bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.” Bush later explained that he did not give the order to overthrow the Iraqi government because it would have “incurred incalculable human and political costs… We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq”.

In explaining to Gulf War veterans why he chose not to pursue the war further, President Bush said, “Whose life would be on my hands as the commander-in-chief because I, unilaterally, went beyond the international law, went beyond the stated mission, and said we’re going to show our macho? We’re going into Baghdad. We’re going to be an occupying power. America in an Arab land with no allies at our side. It would have been disastrous.”

What changed in 10 years? Absolutely nothing. And everything so eerily predicted during the first Bush’s tenure in office has come to pass during the second Bush’s reign. Unbelievable.

Sometimes, father really does know best.

Leonard Pitts Needs a Fact Checker

There’s an old adage amongst newspaper folk: “If your mother says she loves you, get a second source.”

Leonard Pitts over at the Miami Herald should have taken that advice. In a recent column, he discussed the chilling effect of having members of the Department of Homeland Security come in to a public library, loudly announce that surfing for pornography on the library’s public terminals is illegal then singling out one individual who was looking at said material for a little talking to.

This actually happened in Bethesda, MD. I confirmed this by doing a Google News search using the library’s name. I found an article referencing the incident about four links down headlined “Guards reassigned in library porn case“.

Guards?

Turns out the two DHL officers were actually county officers for the county Department of Homeland Security. Questions as to why a county needs officers for such a department aside, the point here is that the federal government had absolutely nothing to do with this. Which pretty much blows Pitts’ column right out of the water.

We tend to trust newspapers and news agencies over blogs and such for a reason – they have a well-established editorial system in place. A writer submits their story idea to an editor who then approves it. Once the article is written, the editor looks it over and, well, edits it. In most large organizations (of which the Miami Herald is one) the article is then sent to a fact-checker for accuracy. Once everyone has given it the OK, it’s pasted into the newspaper layout, sent to the printer then tossed on your doorstep. This is the way it’s been done for decades.

So how did such an erroneous article get into the paper? Worse, how did it get syndicated? If you look at the link above, it’s not from the Herald at all – it’s from the Buffalo News.

Once could argue that, because it’s a column and, therefore, an opinion piece it didn’t really need to be fact-checked. Anyone who has ever survived a libel suit, however, can tell you that’s hogwash.

Given the current political climate, I’d think these types of mistakes would be avoided at all costs. The argument that, in a fast-paced 24-hour news cycle, not everything that hits the streets can be perfect could be made here if this was a news article. But it wasn’t. It was an opinion piece remarking on an event that took place more than a week previous to the date the article appeared. And the pressure of maintaining a daily column deadline doesn’t cut it for me – I spent two years in a news room ofting submitting multiple un-related daily news stories for publication in the same day. Columnists have it easy.

I do believe the media has a responsibility to report the facts to us. I believe they have a responsibility to show us the truth to things. When news agencies have a 24-hour outlet, like a cable news channel or a website, I can accept a certain level of innacuracy, provided they correct it as quickly as they learn the truth and own up to the mistake. When a fairly well-known columnist at a daily newspaper prints a column based entirely on the clear misinterpretation of the facts, though, it indicates an internal failure that calls into question the veracity of everything they print. I don’t think that’s hyperbolic – if they can’t properly fact-check a regular column about a week-old story, how can we expect them to get the breaking news right? Pitts did screw up, but there’s an entire chain of responsibility at fault here and, thanks to syndication, its effects ripple throughout the country and the industry.

I Am the Reason Our Nation is Safe

A federal court judge on the FISA court which is supposed to authorize secret wiretapping activities resigned in protest of the Bush administrations’s warrantless domestic spying activities. I didn’t realize “by any means necessary” included violations of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Here’s the argument that bugs me the most (from the linked article):

Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday defended the secret wiretaps.

“You know, it’s not an accident that we haven’t been hit in four years,” the vice president said, speaking with reporters on Air Force Two en route from Pakistan to Oman.

He’s right, it’s not an accident. Today I’m finally going to speak out and explain why we haven’t been hit by any terrorist activity within our border since 9/11. See, on December 9th, 2001, I found this very cool rock in my front yard. It’s green with some translucent white veins running through it. Just gazing upon it, I knew it was no ordinary rock – this is a special rock. It’s protective powers are awe-inspiring.

Since this rock has come into my possession, we have had no terrorist attacks within our country. We also haven’t been invaded by aliens or fought off zombie hordes. Like I said, this is a special, unbelievably powerful rock.

So there you have it. Without this rock, we would have been annihilated long ago. You should all praise the good fortune that I found this rock, otherwise we’d be in terrible shape.

Naturally, the administration will attempt to discredit me. They have an election coming up next year and it would be embarrassing for them if the GOP lost seats because of my rock. But I challenge them to prove my rock wrong. Show the American people your proof that you’re secret wire taps have thwarted one single terrorist attack! Mr. Cheney, you crow about how all of this erosion of personal and civil liberty is keeping this country safe, but not once have you proven it. I defy you to prove it.

You know the truth, Mr. Cheney. All that wire tapping and airport searching is just so much spinning of wheels. In the end, only my rock can keep us safe. I challenge you to prove otherwise.

A Spy in the House of Bush

I post this not only because it’s an amazing breach into our government’s inner sanctum, which one would theorize in this brave new world of terrorists lapping at our doorsteps should be the safest, most secure building in all the land, but because it, like many of the posts on this blog, gave me a chance to use a vague Simpsons reference [mp3 link] in the subject line.

I’m a petty, simple-minded man.

Pilipinos are spying on you as you read this. Be aware.