Geting it wrong…the sequel

In a previous post, I kvetched about news reporters getting the facts wrong (or incomplete) and thus undermining the story. Here are a few more things you see, or hear, far too much.

1. Pronunciation: Many TV reporters are not from the area in which they are employed, but is it asking too much to expect them to learn to pronounce local places names correctly?  One local reporter pronounced Talbot County as Talebut instead of the correct Tallbut. Another called the Magothy River, correctly pronounced MAgothy, as the MaGOTHY River.

Then there are those who get the word wrong altogether, referring to the Seventh Cavalry as the Seventh Calvary. Cavalry refers to mounted troops, while Calvary was the place of the Crucifixion; not the same thing at all.

And what is so difficult about words containing the letter “e”? Why pronounce it like an “i”? Chemistry becomes Kimestry; century becomes cintury; entitlement becomes intitlemint; feel becomes fill; lending becomes linding; and center field becomes sinner fild.

Speaking of which, when did Florida become Flooorida.?

2. Basic background facts: With the internet and a little curiosity, you can learn the basics about nearly anything very easily. Yet quotes are constantly mangled or misattributed, rumors are reported as fact, and basic terms are ignored or misused. Nowhere is this as apparent as in the gun debate. Now I don’t want to stir up the warring parties here, because politics in a blog leads to long hours of pointless feuding with strangers of varying degrees of stability. I am taking no position; there are more than enough people doing that already.  I’m just saying that whatever your opinions might be on gun control, is it too much to ask that we get the basic technical facts straight? For instance, commentators argue about an “assault rifle” ban. A little research would tell them that assault rifles are already banned. In fact, they have never been legal to own in the US, except by a special, hard-to-obtain permit.

An assault rifle is a rifle that shoots a relatively small caliber bullet and has selective fire capability. That means it can be fired automatically or semi-automatically. They even come with a little selector switch for that purpose. If a rifle is not capable of automatic fire, it is NOT an assault rifle, no matter what it looks like. Semi-automatic fire means you fire one bullet each time you pull the trigger. Even if you hold the trigger down for an hour, the gun will fire only once and then stop. Automatic fire, on the other hand, means that the thing will fire repeatedly as long as you hold the trigger down and still have ammunition feeding into it; in other words, it’s a machine gun. Machine guns have been pretty much illegal since the 1930s. Licensing is extremely expensive and tightly restricted. Laws banning “assault weapons” actually ban semi-automatics that have certain cosmetic characteristics, not actual assault rifles, since actual assault rifles are, in effect, already banned. In fact, since machine guns were banned in the 1930s and assault rifles first appeared in the 1940s, they were pretty much banned in the US before they were even invented!

If you read the above paragraph, you now know more about “assault rifles” than most of the news anchors, and quite a few of the legislators who are writing laws about them. These facts are not complicated and not hard to find out, but commentators constantly talk about “military weapons” or “assault weapons” sold legally with no questions asked. Wrong.

And while we’re on the subject, what, exactly is a “high-powered” rifle? No one has ever defined it, but every news commentator uses it as if it meant something. You would almost think it was a made- up term invented just to make a run of the mill gun sound more lethal. Has any crime ever been committed with a “low-powered” rifle?

And don’t get me started on the difference between a clip and a magazine.

So here’s a hint to any commentator who wants to enlighten us with his opinion: if you want people to take you seriously, have some idea what you are talking about.

3. Insipid questions: For Pete’s sake; if someone just found a cure for cancer, can’t you think of anything better to ask him than “How do you feel?” Here’s a hint: if something good has happened, they’ll feel great. If something bad has happened, they’ll feel terrible. Who would have guessed? Now give me my honorary Journalism degree.

4. Questions that miss the point; When Wendy Davis filibustered in the Texas Legislature in opposition to a bill concerning late term abortion, among other things, the press and TV news people treated her like a rock star. They seemed to be measuring her for a place on a stained glass window. But when it came time to ask her a few hard-hitting questions, no one seemed interested in the issues. Most of the breathless questions were about her pink tennis shoes.

5. Asking to quantify the unquantifiable: This idiotic practice is so widespread, they must teach it in Journalism school. “How important is this event?” “How concerned are you?” or “How confident are you?” “How dangerous is this?” These are things that are not subject to measurement or quantification, so why ask? You’ll get the same worthless response every time. Standard question: “How concerned are you?” Standard answer: “I’m very concerned.” Well, that explains everything.

All right. That’s enough of this. My apologies to any media people who don’t do these things. Resist.

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