Saturday, July 03, 2004

"Fisking" goes mainstream?

Is it just me, or is this column from Frank Devine the most pathetically strained piece I've read on the Internet for, oh, at least the past week?

Frank Devine is carrying the torch for the "ABC is biased" brigade. But I don't think the ABC has much to worry about if this is the best he can come up with. In the spirit of Devine's "peer-review", let's "peer review" this column:

ABC: "An Islamic website proclaimed [the beheading of Paul Johnson] as a lesson to Westerners who dare venture to Saudi Arabia."

Devine: Rephrase or delete. Certainly cut "lesson" and "dare". The ABC shouldn't act as a mouthpiece for murderers.

Me: Delete item. Absurd to imply ABC is "acting as a mouthpiece for murderers", if it indeed accurately reports what website says. Experienced newsman like Devine seems unable to grasp elementary distinction between reporting what is said, and endorsing said views.

ABC: "Mr Johnson's family and friends in New Jersey are devastated. [Unidentified man]: 'They've won one thing: my hatred. I've never been a racist a day in my life but today I'm finding myself very racist'."

Devine: Delete quote. Irresponsible to imply that (1) it's okay to be racist if a friend has been murdered or (2) New Jersey people turn racist when bad things happen or (3) Johnson's murder was the act of a race of people. Highlighting statements of individuals when distraught is unfair and often misleading.

Me: Delete item. Devine's attempt to divine "implications" of selected quote itself unsupported speculation. Unlikely any sane person would form this interpretion from ABC's choice of quote. Likely ABC chose quote for its newsworthiness, as distraught people often are quoted, even in "The Australian." Once again, Devine hopelessly confused between using a quote, and endorsing what quote says.

ABC: "Russian President has revealed new intelligence claiming that Saddam Hussein's regime was planning to strike the United States ... For President George Bush the revelation may come as a relief."

Devine: Delete second sentence. Unsupported, not to say air-head, speculation

Me: Delete item. Speculation not unsupported, in light of recent political pressure on Bush to demonstrate Saddam's links to terrorists intent on striking the United States. Devine appears to live on Mars.

ABC: Just hours after the Russian President's statements [Bush] made a campaign stop to again tell troops Saddam was a threat."

Delete "campaign". The Democratic Party hasn't even chosen its nominee yet. Anyway, commanders-in-chief have other reasons to visit troops than to canvass their votes. Replace "was a threat" with "had been a threat". Saddam is in prison.

Me: Delete item. Devine appears to believe that all those stops Bush is making to tout his Health Plan, Economic Plan, Security Plan etc., not to mention all the attack ads on Kerry that he's currently airing, are not part of an election campaign. Displays fundamental ignorance of US campaign cycle: while it's true that the Democratic party hasn't formally nominated its candidate yet, Kerry has won the "primaries" stage of his campaign -- note the word -- which is why he's referred to in the American press as the "Presumptive Democratic Nominee."

"Was a threat" in appropriate tense to refer to someone who "was a threat"; "had been a threat" also acceptable.

ABC: "[Quoting President Bush]: 'This is a regime that sheltered terrorist groups. This is a regime that hated America. And so we saw a threat and it was a real threat.' That claim is being disputed by the commission into the September 11 attacks."

Devine: Delete last sentence. The commission disputes nothing in this Bush statement. An ABC concoction. Sack scriptwriter and segment producer

Me: Rephrase or delete. 9/11 commission disputed key pre-war claim that Saddam hosted Al-Qaeda terrorist training camp, or co-operated with Al-Qaeda terrorists. Possible to convict ABC of oversimplification here; but this is hardly a unique event in TV news.

ABC: "Analysts believe Putin was trying to help the American president [with his statement that Russian intelligence showed Saddam planned to attack the US], hoping one day the favour might be returned."

Devine: Amazing speculation! Where is there an "analyst" so unhinged as to make it? If possible, shoot scriptwriter and segment producer while attempting to escape.

Me: Delete item. Devine is now quibbling about source selection. While citing speculation as "analysts believe" may be a lazy way to do journalism, this practice is hardly unique to the ABC. Speculation not "amazing": seems straightforward that if Putin is putting forward information that helps the US president, his intention is to help him.

ABC: "[Quoting Opposition spokesman Kevin Rudd]: 'John Howard wants to run a cheap and nasty election campaign based exclusively on national security. Well, this is his national diversion strategy.' But it's a campaign the Government won't be easily diverted from."

Devine: Delete news-reader's ditzy comment. What won't the Government be diverted from? Cheapness and nastiness? Or will it refuse to be diverted from diversion?

Me: Delete item. Perfectly clear from context that ABC is referring to the coalition not be diverted from campaigning on "national security."

"A year ago, Hutchison was eager for media coverage of its third generation [mobile telephone launch]. Today it was camera shy. Under fire for [emissions from] its facility in Camberwell it would only say it was not in a residential area and the breaches were on minor technicalities."

Devine: Delete first two sentences. Why shouldn't a company (or individual) choose when to pose for ABC cameras? Delete "only" from third sentence. It's a substantial statement.

Me: Delete item. While not purely neutral, it is acceptable for the media to emphasise a refusal to talk to the media. "Only" can reasonably be interpreted as meaning those were the only things the company said, not that these are insignificant statements.

And so on and so on and so on. Until you're sick of it, assuming you weren't already sick of it in paragraph one.

I've always thought the best refutation of this sort of idiotic, tendentious blog style "journalism" was Anil Dash's wonderful "fisking" of America's "Declaration of Independence" a while back. Only through satire can the essential idiocy of attack commentary be brought home.