03 September 2008

I Suppose It's a Good Thing That Journalist Are So Responsive to Criticism (Chris Ayres Edition). . .

"I can't prove this is made up"? Well, you could always Google 'Bentley' and 'Hyundai' (as I did, because I couldn't believe my own eyes) and this would be the result: http://www.autoblog.com/2007/07/05/cruel-sick-joke-bentley-continental-badged-as-a-hyundai/ Likewise, with the bunny story, you could buy Palin's biography and turn to page 17. Patina is surely among the most expensive restaurants in LA, and if Obama isn't a good orator, McCain is a Yupik Inuit. My bad on New Mexico and Polaris.

A response in reply to my Chris Ayres post, from a "Chris", I will assume this Chris is that Chris, though as with everything on the internet, this may or not be the case (and what's the deal with award-winning journalists responding to my thoughts on media?).

First, the Bentley thing, one sick joker who probably lost a bet, doesn't a trend make. You can get a single fact right, and still completely miscontrue the truth. In some ways it's anti-truthiness. Rather than making up a fact and then spinning a larger truth from a lie, this is an example of finding a fact, and then making up a larger lie based on one small fact.

2nd, the first chapter of the Palin bio is a PDF available on the net, so let's read what Kaylene Johnson wrote on page 17 (reprinted without permission, but seems like pretty fair use to me):

When the family wasn’t running or hiking, it was hunting or fishing.

“We could literally go hunting out our back door,” Chuck Jr. said. Sarah shot her first rabbit at age ten not far from the back porch. In her teens, she hunted caribou with her father. The family’s freezer was always full of fish and game. Chuck
Jr. said he didn’t eat a beef steak until he was a senior in high school. Gardening helped fill the family larder.

Here again is what Chris Ayres spun from this:

At the age of 10, Sarah Palin got her very own bunny rabbit. Which means to say that she crouched down in the grass outside her family home, aimed her shotgun and blew its furry little head off. That's how things work in Alaska. You kill stuff. You freeze it. You turn it into stew.

Notice a difference? First, no mention of the weapon used, so the shotgun part is made up. Second, calling a wild hare a "bunny rabbit" suggests a fuzzy little domesticated animal, and not some lop-eared feral beast/pest that would threaten the family's vegetable garden (in good breeding years, wild rabbits are rapacious garden destroying pests). So what we have here is one made up fact not supported by the source (the shotgun), and a characterization that paints the anecdote far more luridly than originally given. It's a choice, and in my opinion a dishonest choice.

As far as Sen. Obama possessing "faultless oratory skills", I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. But, in my opinion (and as stated in my other post), to count as a 'faultless orator' one would need to be great both speaking from prepared text, and without a script. Sen. Obama has not met that standard, I commend his ability to speak from a script, but he's a bit of a mess without a teleprompter, for example:

That's just one moment, but to me 'faultless' suggests without fault regardless of the situation, and above is just one example of Sen. Obama struggling while answering a question off teleprompter.

And as far as Patina goes, again, it's not untrue that a couple could spend $400 feasting at Patina, and it is indeed one of the more expensive restaurants in L.A. (but by no means close to being the most expensive, the upscale Japanese restaurants in town usually earn that honor), you could run up huge tabs at any good restaurant if you include the cost of drinks (I used to check expense reports at an entertainment company, so I've seen +$500 receipts for appetizers and drinks for 4 people before, and that was ten years ago). The point seemed to be that Mayor Villaraigosa isn't plebeian enough, but it's a silly point to try and make, and it could be made without exaggeration (and besides, this is L.A., a little glamour never hurts, so long as it's not on the public dime, though I have no idea what non-government jobs Villaraigosa has had where he can afford to go to Patina too often (his girlfriend probably pays), but that's a completely different story, and tangential to this discussion).

And thank you Mr. Ayres for admitting small factual screw-ups regarding New Mexico and Piper Indy Palin's name.

You aren't a bad writer, your LA Notebook is entertaining after a fashion, but the place you describe is basically a fantasy that has little connection to the real thing. I recommend that you get out a bit more, visit a suburb or city within 60 miles of downtown that you've previously haven't visited, once a week. Chat up a local a two, and maybe you'll learn something about this vast and confused land and be able to communicate a fairer and more interesting snapshot of this megalopolis to the readers back in England. If I may make a suggestion, the L.A. County Fair begins in a few days, and that place would be chock-full-a stuff you can poke fun at, and show you a side of this town that I'm guessing you haven't experienced.

It's just a suggestion, I'm sure the editors at Times of London will continue to support your column one way or the other (you're not the first columnist over there I've noticed stretching the truth to fit their own narrative), but if you want readers here to respect your writing, tighten it up a bit. This is an interesting place, it's an exaggerated fantasy land in a lot of ways just as it is, no truth stretching necessary to sell it that way.

Besides, Mr. Ayres, it's not a bad thing I have my eye on you, think of me as one of your most loyal readers, and come by any time to comment on any of my posts, whether they're about you or not (and if I see you in a pub, I'll buy you Guinness, no hard feelings, and if you don't drink Guinness, well, screw you, then, what kind of Englishman are you?)

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