Monday, October 22, 2007

By Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Perhaps

News judgment – it’s an intangible, subjective quality, so it may seem unfair to criticize. But Charlotte Sun editors have been especially puerile lately (see last week’s Sasquatch feature). At breakfast this morning, I digested this tidbit, presented by a gullible page designer as Important World News: “Man sews mouth closed in protest.”

Of all the short news items available on the AP wire last night, a dozen items might have helped Sun readers better understand the world’s relationship to Our Town. But lacking adult supervision, a page designer chose to pour the maximum eeew factor into a five-inch news hole.

I might have let it go; children will be children. But the young ’un needs to develop a healthy skepticism if he seeks long-term success in the news business. This item has all earmarks of a fake story. I think the Sun got taken.

The central character in this apparent work of fiction is a man with his mouth sewn shut. Despite that handicap, he “demanded” – not “wrote a demand” or “demanded through a spokesperson,” but he himself articulated a need for government assistance.

The man-with-his-mouth-sewn-shut “told the Associated Press on Saturday that he started the peculiar protest five days ago” – not "wrote the AP," or "signed to the AP," or "tapped out in Morse Code to the AP," but he himself with his mouth sewn shut for almost a week “told” these things. And the story the man-with-his-mouth-sewn-shut told is fairly complex: He bought shoes for his children, couldn’t pay the rent and was then locked out of his apartment. It takes more than a grunt to convey this sad series of events.

In the third paragraph, our gullible page designer read for the second time the man-with-his-mouth-sewn-shut is “demanding” something; he demands “a loan to jump-start a cottage textile business and pay health care bills for his wife and children.”

Now, I did a little Internet search to find out who wrote this story with no byline. Only the Turkish Daily News (“More Turkish, More Daily, More News”) seems to have run the item, and like the Charlotte Sun was able to credit only the wire service – no name, no reporter, no second source, no corroboration. TDN ran a longer version which refers to “shocked residents” but not one is actually quoted or interviewed. Our Sun editor simply chopped out this inconvenient red-flag.

If all this was insufficient to alert our sleepy babe-in-the-woods page designer that the story is a total crock, he/she should have been skeptical about the language attributed to the man-with-his-mouth-sewn-shut in the unsourced, uncorroborated story: “jump start,” “textile business” “cottage [industry],” “health care bills” – it all sounds more like Donald Trump than an impoverished Colombian. Even in translation it screams of a bored stringer having a some fun at the expense of at least one editor del norte. Too bad it had to be ours.

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