September 11, 2004

A Parts Story

(NOTE: I'm doing here about the vainest thing any weblogger can do: Excerpting part of a previous post--with slight modification to make the excerpt a "standalone"--that is now badly butchered because I included information that has since been deemed erroneous. That faulty information, however, does not impact the following excerpt, which actually is the part of the post I wanted to emphasize in the first place. Like I said: It's vain of me to do this. I'm very clear on that much. Now shut up and humor me.)


Let me explain why I don't think historical and technical arguments about typesetting ultimately matter: Because they make this a parts story.

"But CNN is going to run it day and night," he said. "By next week, it'll be ancient history. We have to go with this story Saturday."

"Right," she said.

. . .

He spun back. "Go do it."

"Okay," she said. "Thanks, Dick."

"You sure you can put it together in time?"

She started collecting her notes. "Trust me."

As she headed out through Marian's office, she heard him shout, "Just remember, Jennifer--don't come back with a parts story! I don't want a fucking parts story!"

From Airframe, by Michael Crichton. If you've read it, you know why I think it's relevant (I hope).

If you haven't, here's the short version: The excerpted conversation above occurs between the producer of a news-mag style show (a la "60 Minutes"), and the reporter who wants to do a story about a recent in-flight accident that has left three people dead. (The line "CNN is going to run it day and night" refers to graphic home video footage taken during the flight.)

The producer doesn't want a parts story because he knows nothing will put people to sleep faster than a technical discussion of airplane construction and safety devices.

(Or, say . . . fonts.)

The producer wants what I'd call a "some heads are gonna roll" story. A story about how negligent airplane manufacturers are. A story about Terror in the Skies. A story about how You Could Be at Risk. A story about Evil Corporations and the Evil, Evil Ways in Which They Totally Neglect Your Safety for a Buck.

I'm sure you're familiar with the type of story I'm talking about.

All over the blogosphere, people are discussing fonts and typesetting and military style guidelines and, well, parts.

But the aspect of this that isn't a parts story is what's frightening. That a major news organization is willing to neglect its own credibility to further an agenda is frightening. That a major news organization assigns more value and emphasis to voter intent--ack, I'm sorry; I mean Lieutenant Colonel Killian's intent--than the actual votes--geez, there I go again! I mean Lieutenant Colonel Killian's actual statements--that disturbs me very much.

Gosh. Why do I keep mixing those two things up?

Maybe it's because they come from the same thought process: One in which what should have been true trumps what is verifiably true. Voters in Florida should have voted for Gore; therefore, it's within reason to spend months analyzing ballots looking for any indication, however slight, that they meant to vote for Gore.

Lieutenant Colonel Killian should have written that memo. He meant to write that memo. He would have written that memo, had he only found the time--oh, what the hell! He did write the memo. He wrote it in his mind, and Dan Rather divined it, and that's close enough, isn't it?

You've probably read it 100 times already, but read this statement by Kelli Edwards, CBS spokesperson, one more time:

CBS verified the authenticity of the documents by talking to individuals who had seen the documents at the time they were written. These individuals were close associates of Colonel Jerry Killian and confirm that the documents reflect his opinions at the time the documents were written.
See? He meant to. He definitely thought those things. He was going to write them down. He should have written them down. Does it matter whether he really did or not? He would have; he could have. Oh, let's pretend he did. We could get away with it. We will get away with it. No one wants to read about typefaces and kerning and superscript and date formatting . . . no one will care. By Monday, anyone who does care will be thoroughly sick of discussing it anyway. The rest won't remember. Let's run with this. We can do it.

And they did.

And I don't care who you're voting for this November: That kind of behavior from a major news source should scare the daylights out of you.

Posted by Ilyka at September 11, 2004 12:44 AM in i don't know you tell me

Airframe? i thought I was the only person in the whole world who read that book. now i know there are two. as i'm sure you recall, the key to this story is to note which side throws up first.

Posted by: rammer at September 11, 2004 02:10 AM

You said it, man.

It's no longer about Bush or Kerry. It's about the major media.

This thing is like the news media's very own Watergate scandal about themselves!

Posted by: Dean Esmay at September 12, 2004 11:42 AM