I just can't hold back today. My morning news gorge begins with Yahoo! news and today I just can't take it: every other section has a story that speculates on some event that may or may not happen, whose outcome fits someone's political agenda, and the news outlet was just too lazy to fact-check the assertions contained in the story.
AP and Fox seem to be the leader in this form of story crafting, but all the news outlets are guilty of it, and it drives me crazy.
• Success of lone gunmen may shift al-Qaida strategy AP – 55 mins ago
• Analysis: Greece's crisis could presage America's Wed AP--Mar 10, 1:46 pm ET
• Big Bang experiment may reveal dark universe: CERN Reuters -- Mon Mar 8, 1:14 pm
And I'm only halfway down the news sections in my Yahoo! news portal. Out of the first 20 or so stories, three are purely speculative. When I read these headlines, my first mental instinct is to reply, "Dragon's may fly out of my butt each time I fart." Really, WTF!?!
Assessments of these kinds of story reveal that the contents of the story have been created by some PR person and handed to a "journalist," who then rewrites the release with conditionals so that no work is required to back up the assertions contained in the story. Finally, a headline writer, who may or may not write a headline related to the content of the story AT ALL, will throw in additional conditionals to make the decision defensible to 3rd graders suffering from severe head trauma.
Let's look at today's stories, shall we? "Success of lone gunmen may shift al-Qaida strategy" is based on the underwear bomber incident in December of last year -- not even a gunman. "Gunman" was used as a metaphor for "bad guy." And here's the source of this wisdom: "U.S. officials and counterterrorism experts." Yup. Those guys (and gals). Hey, I'm a US counterterrorism expert (because I say so) and dragons could fly out of your butt when you fart well before al-Qaida shifts its strategy on lone gunman.
" Analysis: Greece's crisis could presage America's" is a little better. It is prefaced by "Analysis:" even though it appears in the news section of Yahoo! "Analysis" means "Editorial" meant to look like news. So here the gist of that story: Some guy at an economic analysis company feeds a storyline to a reporter who's out of ideas today. The clue is halfway down the story:
"Someday it will happen if we don't get our act together on spending, our debt under control and our economy to grow faster," said Allen Sinai, chief global economist for New York-based Decision Economics Inc., which provides financial advice to corporations and governments."
So Allen feeds a story that will play well with Republicans looking for a hammer to beat on the Administration that says that there may be parallels (dragons may fly) between Greece's financial situation, and that of the United States, (fire-breathing dragons, yes sir!). Allen gets a Google hit, AP reporter gets a story (and gets paid for writing stories about as useful as dragon-emitting farts), and everyone is happy. Except for those of us who are trying to make sense of what they read and really don't have the mental space to examine and comprehend the impact of dragon-farting.
Finally, last story: "Big Bang experiment may reveal dark universe: CERN Reuters -- Mon Mar 8, 1:14 pm." I'ma gonna blame this on lazy headline writing, but dragon's poke their head out of my butt for this one too. "Big Bang experiment designed to reveal dark universe." would have been an accurate headline. Less emotive, (fewer dragons), but more revealing and more clueful about how science works.
As it is, I'm picturing a 25-year-old news nerd slamming out headlines between gulps of Dunkin Donut's coffee, watching "American Idol" via TiVo, texting to their Facebook friends, and thinking to herself, "this story is really boring, it needs some dragons."
In summary and to conclude: If you call yourself a journalist and write speculative articles, and label them "creative writing exercises with no intrinsic value" then I will defend your desire for professional integrity. However, post these kinds of stories as news, and I begin to regard you, and your "news organization," as propagators of, (what could be an al-Qaida based hoax) the dragon-fart theorem. And that my friends, is unforgivable.