Friday, May 2, 2008

Hell, We’ll Make A Week Of It

Today we’ll be wrapping up our week long survey of stupidity via Florida related news stories by analyzing the most idiotic article I could find during a ten second search for idiotic articles.

Here’s the headline: Gator “as big as a dinosaur” on the loose in Windermere

How idiotic is this article? Let us count the ways:

1. We start with the phenomenon Pete insightfully called to task earlier this week. The reporter, in lieu of exerting a little effort to obtain a substantive quote from someone quote worthy, decided to fill her quote quota with the first spontaneous utterances of the nearest warm body. Now, Police Chief Dan Saylor, who was quoted as saying, “It looked like the size of a dinosaur. It was huge!” was clearly having an emotional reaction to allegedly seeing an alligator in Florida, so he’s not really at fault here. But the reporter and her editor/headline commer-upper made the journalistic decision to lead with this non-expert opinion; it’s the angle of the entire story. The problem, and resulting stupidity, is that alligators ARE dinosaurs, so no matter what size it is, it will of course “look like the size of a dinosaur.” It IS one! It’s like saying that cubical cardboard construct is the size of a box.

2. To back up my outrageous claim that alligators are dinosaurs, I spent five industrious seconds conducting internet research and found that, in fact, they are not. However, rather than discard an entire paragraph and shoot holes in my own analysis, I obtained a quote from someone with at least as much dinosaur knowledge as Chief Saylor: me. I said, and I quote, “Alligators are dinosaurs.” I’m happy to report it is now a matter of controversial scientific debate.

3. To further belabor the point, dinosaurs (we’ll exclude alligators from this category until a scientific consensus is reached) ranged in size from just under two feet in length (Parvicursor) to over 130 feet (Amphicoelias). There were probably some smaller and/or larger, but who wants to wait around for scientists playing with shovels before making definitive claims? Point is, I’m the size of a dinosaur, so are you, and so is my plasma TV. (That was actually the reason I bought it.) So what's the big deal?

4. Moving on, the phrase “on the loose” is at best irresponsible, and at worst a subtle insinuation of past criminal activity on the alligator’s part, followed by brief incarceration, subsequent escape, and a continued effort to elude authorities. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? The damned thing hasn’t even eaten any kids yet. Devouring children, by the way, is the one crime an alligator can be convicted of in the state of Florida, and it’s punishable by death—sorry, euthanasia. Once they get a taste for kiddie flesh there’s no stopping them. Now, I have no problem with dogs being described as “on the loose,” because dogs, in their own way, ARE incarcerated. (Relax dog owners. Don’t get rabid on me. I know. I know. It’s not a prison if you never try the door.) Interestingly though, sharks, the third member of the Human Flesh Eating Trinity of Florida, are never categorized as “on the loose.” Perhaps it’s our own land animal bias. I dunno.

5. Now that we’ve used up four of our five analytical points on the headline alone, it’s time to delve into the article itself where we find the only valuable piece of objective information: the alligator is estimated to be 10-12 feet long. Notice how the reporter cleverly buried that damaging evidence in the second sentence? Here’s why: According to Wikipedia, the ultimate repository for non-expert quotes, there wasn’t a single dinosaur IN the 10-12ft range! Check it out. They’re all larger or smaller. (Don't worry Chief, we gotcher back, said the intrepid reporter.)

6. (Bonus Analysis) Here are some examples of sloppy/non-objective/purposely misleading language within the article:

Trappers are lying in wait for a stubborn alligator who has hunkered down in a pond… Everything’s war with these people.

Trappers were able to capture the female, who had been a nuisance in the area… Nuisance? Mosquitoes are a nuisance. Gators are giant prehistoric monsters who refuse to recognize the authority of local zoning boards. Plus, they might eat you. And while the timing of getting eaten may be inopportune, it’s certainly more than a nuisance.

The trappers decided the female had to be euthanized because she was too big to be relocated… Translation: Forgot we let Jimmy borrow the pickup.

So you see, once we strip away all the hocus pocus bullshit, this news story can be summed up thusly:

There’s an alligator in Florida.

Yeah. It gets hot here too. What they should’ve done, instead of wasting all of our time, was rehash this one.

In the spirit of creating non-news news stories out of thin air, on the sidebar I’ve put up Troll Poll#2 (yes, it’s hard to believe we’re already on #2!), which asks for your input on the subject of “WTF Makes News News?” That is, what is news? I’ll leave it up for an undetermined period of time, and then on Monday or Tuesday we’ll look at the results and discuss what we’ve learned. You can select more than one answer, so check all that apply, and if you select “Other” please specify in the comments.

7 comments:

pjd said...

I don't know if you keep a list of "all time classic posts," but this goes on it. This one will be replayed again and again through the years, like the Bass-O-Matic skit and the "I have a dream" speech.

I was going to quote my favorite parts, but the list got to be too long. No, OK, I'll quote my very very primo super favorite tied-for-#1 parts:

I’m happy to report it is now a matter of controversial scientific debate.

subtle insinuation of past criminal activity on the alligator’s part, followed by brief incarceration, subsequent escape, and a continued effort to elude authorities

Interestingly though, sharks, the third member of the Human Flesh Eating Trinity of Florida, are never categorized as "on the loose."

this news story can be summed up thusly: There’s an alligator in Florida.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Ok. So I answered the poll with what makes news news currently and not how I wish it would be.

Alligators, cockroaches and sharks were all around in the dino period. And you can quote me on that for some serious news story as those shown in your blog.

And yeah, why is she killed because she's too big? Ever hear a man say the same about a male? So is she then bigger than a dino? Love the pick up truck line! Explains it very nicely.

We encroach on their land, or water as the case may be, and then we accuse them of being in our space and threatening us. I wonder if the old west news sounded the same way with the Indians?

Great entry again, oh blogless blogger.

Robin S. said...

And while the timing of getting eaten may be inopportune, it’s certainly more than a nuisance.

AND

Now, I have no problem with dogs being described as “on the loose,” because dogs, in their own way, ARE incarcerated. (Relax dog owners. Don’t get rabid on me. I know. I know. It’s not a prison if you never try the door.)

You make me laugh so hard! I love it. I took your poll- my vote is for the ignorant masses info one.

McKoala said...

So soon not only will the dolphins have a price on your head, but journalists will raise it.

writtenwyrdd said...

You're so funny. I hope you do news lampoons on a regular basis. How about NAFTA or Chinese imports?

ChrisEldin said...

I love the transparency in your style of reporting! This was really funny!! Agree with PJD.

Also loved the line about 'scientific debate!'

Phoenix said...

Hey BT, you oughtta be a writer. Some people make money at this, yanno.

I for one checked each item in your poll. I'm quite shocked you didn't put down for "Other" what everyone knows: Like art is in the beholder's eye, news is what I think is news. And, of course, I'm never wrong.