Stupid News Writing By Professionals

In today’s Globe two Washington Post reporters write about last night’s execution of John Allen Muhammad, the D.C. sniper who, with an accomplice, murdered ten people in October 2002.

The story contains this paragraph, by reporters Josh White and Maria Glod:

The killings began with no explanation. Then the snipers left cryptic notes and phone messages demanding $10 million, just as millions of Washington area residents were distracted by white vans and other delusions that authorities were mistakenly chasing.

Delusions?

The authorities were chasing delusions?

Perhaps the huge financial hits that the newspaper business has taken lately have forced the Post to pawn its dictionaries.

The police pursued the leads they had. That the leads were false or bad or misleading does not make them delusions. Nor were the police ‘mistakenly chasing’ anything. They followed the leads they had at the time. The mistake would have been to do nothing.

White and Glod make the police out to be the sort of nutcases who believe in ghosts, vampires, and gods, who use Ouija boards to solve crimes, who believe Elvis Presley lives in a suburb of Detroit.

The Lion is certain that if pressed on the issue, White and Glod would claim the deadline defense. “We were under tremendous deadline pressure. Mistakes happen.”

Well, yes, mistakes do happen. And deadlines are real, not delusions.

But this is just sloppy writing enabled by poor thinking and a complete lack of editorial judgment. It’s what one might expect from a high school sophomore just starting out on the school newspaper.

On the other hand, it is not beyond the capacity of some of The Lion’s darker personality elements to consider that the phrasing the reporters used was intentional, meant to slur the police. It is certainly not unknown for reporters to inject their personal biases and agendas into news stories.

Did that happen in this story? There’s no way to know, unless the writers want to make a claim of deadlinitis and subject themselves to competent cross-examination. But that the question needs to be asked at all tells much about the times we live in and the delusions therein.

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