Friday, March 07, 2008

How to write an editorial for the Sentinel

It must be pretty easy to write editorials for a hack newspaper. You can just make stuff up! As long as it fits with the ideological biases of the paper, anything goes!

There does seem to be one rule that applies at the Sentinel though. No matter how sensible the rest of your editorial is, it's not complete until you throw in a totally unsubstantiated bit of conservative bullshit.

Let's look at a few recent editorials for example!

First, Jeff McMenemy's editorial entitled Fathers deserve more credit than they get.

Pretty dull, uninspired stuff. Just what we've come to expect from the illustrious editor of the Sentinel!

It's also pretty uncontroversial, and is basically about how single fathers are okay guys and shouldn't be written off just based on their gender. Okay, no worries. But for some bizarre reason in the middle of it he throws out this gem:
To suggest, as many in the liberal family court system do, that a child will be harmed by spending equal amounts of time with both parents, is illogical and the worst kind of political correctness.

The family court system is liberal? Liberals think that spending time with both parents is bad? That's somehow "politically correct?" Huh?

I know a lot of liberals. I've discussed politics with a lot of liberals. I'm a liberal myself. Not once do I recall any of us ever having an issue with fathers spending time with their children. What's the point of even throwing this in the editorial, other than to further express the paper's massive conservative bias? It's not like it adds to the argument (which was otherwise not that bad, for McMenemy at least) in any way.

Now, I do worry about McMenemy's kids, but it's not because he's male. It's just because he's a douchebag.

Regardless, it follows the paper's golden rule of always having an unfounded attack on liberals in its editorials, so it passes!

Next, we'll move onto the somewhat less sensible but still okay Judges need more accountability, less secrecy.

Now, this is less of a clear-cut case, because the whole piece is pretty dumb. Personally, I don't feel the need to have judges spend all their time sucking up to the press and explaining their every decision (99% of which are totally uninteresting anyway). I'd rather they spend that time doing judge stuff.

But in general transparency is a good thing, so I'll let it pass.

Yet, once again we get a bit of weirdness:
The judiciary is not under attack; it is simply being scrutinized for fostering in the public's mind a perception that judges are liberal, elitist and arrogant.

Damn those elitist liberal judges! Why could the public possibly view them that way? Actually, hold on a second; does the public even view them that way?

I don't. Most people I know don't. I went looking for polling figures saying this is what the public thinks and couldn't find any (maybe I missed something?). Still, I'd be willing to bet that most people generally don't spend a lot of time thinking about the political views or personality foibles of judges, they just want them to interpret the law correctly. Which is their job.

But if we accept that this perception maybe does in fact exist, do you really think it's the judges who are at fault? After all, they're not even the ones talking to the press (which is largely what the editorial is complaining about).

Maybe, just maybe, it's actually the press portraying the judges this way that would make people come to these erroneous conclusions. Case in point: this editorial. Some monkey behind a typewriter says that judges are liberal and elitist and blah blah blah so it must be true!

Never mind the fact that every last bit of legal reporting I've ever seen in a newspaper is totally superficial, doesn't explain the intricacies of the law, and generally belies a total misunderstanding of how the legal system even functions.

Also please disregard the fact that even if every judge in the country is an arrogant liberal elitist, that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they're a good judge. Their views and personalities don't matter if they do their job right.

Oh, but liberals are bad! Just like those arrogant elitists (none of which exist in the press corps, nosiree sir!).

So the editorial goes through.

Finally, let's go to the most recent example: State's auto insurance coverage still has a long way to go.

It's about the recent MassPIRG study (warning, that link is a PDF) showing that--in the words of the study--"'How You Drive' Takes a Backseat to 'Who You Are'".

It's an interesting study that I recommend reading (or at least skimming through) if you're interested in seeing the ways in which the insurance companies game the system to use socioeconomic factors in determining rates, despite the state attempting to prevent exactly that.

I don't think the editorialist actually bothered to read the study, but that's hardly surprising.

Anyway, here's the relevant bit from the editorial that had me scratching my head:
We think the report shows what happens when state government gets involved in business: They mess it up.
Well, now I know they didn't read the study.

On the other hand, at least they didn't use the word "liberal" this time. Instead, they just regurgitated a stupid conservative talking point that makes absolutely no sense in this context.

First off, the state is deregulating the auto insurance industry. It's getting less involved in business than it has been, and that's what's fucking things up. How hard is that to understand?

Here's a quote from the MassPIRG report that explains the old system (bold and italics are theirs):
Massachusetts policymakers over the years had become very aware that the competitively rated auto insurance markets in the other states served the interests of insurers – not of consumers – and were notably flawed in one vital respect: The other rating systems unfairly penalized many drivers with good records and rewarded many drivers with bad records. The Massachusetts rating system was highly regulated precisely to avoid the major failings of competitive auto insurance markets – in particular, that these other markets permitted insurers to use countless rating factors having nothing to do with the consumer’s driving record. These other factors dilute the importance of driving record, and to make matters worse, do so by discriminating against drivers based on their socio-economic status. And so, Massachusetts policymakers preserved a rigid rating system because that system gave more weight to driving record than any other rating system in the United States.
Well, that's pretty unequivocal. When the state was highly involved in regulating the auto insurers things were exactly as the Sentinel wants them to be. When the state removed (or lessened, anyway) its involvement we opened ourselves up to the same flaws that exist in the other 49 states. In fact, the whole point of regulation was to prevent this kind of shit from happening.

But somehow the Sentinel interprets that as the state getting involved with business and messing things up. What the hell?

Yeah, the state messed up. It messed up by deregulating. It should have kept the old, more heavily-regulated system in place. But then you'd have papers like the Sentinel writing editorials about how the state shouldn't interfere with business. Which they did anyway!

So there you have it. Three editorials. Three bullshit conservative talking points that are either totally irrelevant to the point of the article, unsubstantiated gibberish, or just plain illogical.

The only conclusion one can reasonably reach from this small sampling is that the Sentinel must have some sort of quota of conservative bullshit it has to include to consider an editorial fit for printing.

Or they're just totally incompetent boobs. Take your pick.


The Unicow said...

Incidentally, it's not just the Sentinel that publishes mind-bogglingly stupid editorials (that one was originally entitled "Women Aren't Very Bright" before they changed it online).

But the Washington Post at least followed up with this editorial by Katha Pollitt eviscerating its own earlier stupid editorial.

I'm betting the Sentinel's not going to follow their lead...

1970s Abraham Lincoln said...

On the bright side, the Sentinel just found a new publisher.

The Unicow said...

Yeah, I saw that. He at least sounds better than the last one, though the jury's still out.

Now they need a new editor.

Abacquer said...

When you have a newspaper that is fit only for wrapping garbage, can one expect otherwise?