John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The march to trivia

Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press.

Lessee, now. CNN’s lead items: “Loss of softball teammates called ‘devastating’ ” and “Neda’s mother: ‘She was like an angel.’ ” So we conclude that when people die young and tragically, those left behind grieve. Got it. Looking forward to stories on the tenth anniversary of their deaths to see it confirmed that people are still sad.

Over at MSNBC, “Long-term jobless running on empty.” Not quite fair for me — unemployed for six months — to guess, but I think maybe that things get bad when you’re out of a job and have exhausted your resources.

Also on MSNBC, “Glenn Beck is new Oprah.” Let’s just shudder and move on.

Moving quickly to CBS News — you remember, Walter Cronkite’s old outfit — we find “Cops Find Missing Fla. Baby Under Sitter’s Bed.” You can click on the option to share the story on Facebook.

Maybe there’s something locally. WMAR in Baltimore has “Erase Embarrassing Photos from Facebook.” Can’t argue with that.

Dare I try Fox News? Ah, there’s that infant from under the bed. And some stuff about how the Democrats are all wrong about health care.

Yesterday the Associated Press discovered a man in Tennessee who says an image of Jesus keeps reappearing on the window of his pickup truck. This led “fev” at HeadsUp to offer advice that I fear will not be heeded: “No deities on foodstuffs, kitties, load-bearing surfaces, windows, motor vehicles or ancient mysterious medieval cloths. Ever. Period. It isn't news. You can't make it news. Don't try.”

I like Utz potato chips and Five Guys french fries and the beer-battered onion rings at the Hamilton Tavern. But I don’t make an exclusive diet of them. Years ago, when I worked as wire editor at The Sun, I always looked for an offbeat story or two to put on the budget, but I would never have dreamed to make them the lead items.

U.S. troops are coming back from Afghanistan in coffins. Millions of Americans are unemployed. Millions more lack medical insurance. And our political discourse has descended to name-calling while our newspapers, our television news operations, and our Internet news sites feature a steady diet of pap. I don’t know what an anthropologist would make of it, but surveying the offerings of our news media suggests to me that they are playing to an audience that they expect to be easily distracted and not serious.


  1. Tsk. Tsk. And you've missed the biggest lead of all--THE story dominating attention due to its vital importance worldwide: the paean to Michael Jackson This Is It. There are no other news stories of importance, right?

  2. "They are playing to an audience that they expect to be easily distracted and not serious."

    Why, certainly. That obeys the Willie Sutton Principle, in which all robbers of the public purse believe with implicit faith.

  3. My favorite death-related cliche is "untimely death." Do some reporters have access to a database that tells them when people are going to die?

  4. Geezes, John. First you tell us that you voted for McGovern. Then you tell us that your son hates sports. Then you tell us that you hate driving fast. Is there any frigging testosterone in the McIntyre family, or what?

  5. For some of us, masculinity does not require props.

  6. Patricia the TerseNovember 5, 2009 at 7:00 PM

    The Democrats are all wrong about medical care. Glenn Beck does not at all resemble the Awful Oprah - he's much thinner and wears much less makeup off camera. And masculinity, while not a matter of props, does assume a bit more than bragging that you and your male offspring don't like sports. Incidentally, does real, authentic feminity require props? (Except of course, female impersonators, who are all props.)