Monday, December 26, 2016

Freud smiles

From Lessons From 2016 for the News Media, as the Ground Shifts by Jim Rutenberg. As a column, it is about what you would expect from an organization whose reputation, finances and customer satisfaction have all been plunging. The main argument is that they were even-handed in their approach to the 2016 election and they did a pretty good, if unacknowledged, job of reporting.

Rather than fisking the whole thing, which is highly fiskable, I prefer to focus on a Freudian slip. The Times has long claimed superior product based on layers and layers of editors and fact-checkers. Apparently, they don't have enough layers.

Rutenberg starts out with a hyperbolic analogy that way overdramatizes the role of the news media.
Starting a weekly column about the nexus between media, technology, culture and politics in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign was like parachuting into a hail of machine-gun crossfire.
I think the better rendering might have been:
Starting a weekly column about the nexus between media, technology, culture and politics in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign was like playing the lead role in a Greek tragedy where the character's hubris was the cause of his own downfall.
No need to steal from the valor of our military, just acknowledge your own role in your predicament.

After a few more meandering dribbles,
So the ammunition keeps flying, especially at the national news media, which emerges from the election invigorated in its mission to report on plate-shifting news while rooting out the truth. And yet it has never been more besieged or, if the Gallup Organization had it right, distrusted.
Let's ignore the simple ignorance of "the ammunition keeps flying." Bullets fly. Ammunition is fired. Ammunition doesn't fly unless it is thrown at you.

The more egregious fault in writing is elsewhere. Come on editors, "rooting out the truth?" Critics of the Times would claim that the heavily biased reporting did indeed root out the truth and trafficked in fake news.

From Merriam Webster:
Definition of root out
1: to find and remove (something or someone)

2: to find (something or someone) after searching for a long time
The primary meaning of the phrase Root out is to find and remove. Rutenberg is claiming that the NYT's challenge was to keep finding and getting rid of the truth from its reporting.

Critics would agree. Critics likely would acknowledge that it became increasingly hard for the NYT to hide the levels of corruption and incompetency of their preferred candidate as the election progressed.

Clearly Rutenberg was intending his reference to "root out" to be used in the secondary sense, as in finding.

However, when your candidate has been repudiated and lost an election that was the second election she was supposed by everyone to have been unassailably positioned to win, when your own news organization has failed in its duty to report impartially, when you are being accused left, right, and center of having had your thumb on the news scale, when you are believed by most to be untrustworthy, and when the claim is in wide circulation that your failure is rooted in bubble-like insularity, then you would think Rutenberg, and his editors, would be carful in his wording not to feed those accusations by baldly, if accidentally, stating that the hardest part of the election was hiding the truth.

I would expect that the NYTs will eventually notice this misstatement. For posterity, here is the screenshot.

Click to enlarge.

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