Politics & Media
Oct 16, 2023, 06:26AM

The Journalism of Precision at Politico

During or maybe after, closed or maybe shut.

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We have a mystery moment. Somehow the moment, the whole moment, took place during a meeting and also right after the meeting. This mystery accompanies another: was the door to the meeting open or shut? Not a huge point, but important enough in context and easy to convey. That it gets lost in the shuffle is another example of the incompetence that pervades newswriting.

The set-up: a congresswoman witnessed a jarring moment between Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan, two rivals for the House speakership. Now Politico:

“It took place during a private meeting between Scalise and Jordan, less than an hour after the majority leader won the House GOP’s internal speaker ballot. Wagner wasn’t in the room, but she remained outside in Scalise’s office and took in the immediate aftermath.

“According to Wagner and other House Republicans briefed on the meeting, Jordan said to Scalise: ‘You get one ballot. And when you go down, you will nominate me.’

“She said Scalise pushed back, arguing he had won by the conference rules, to which Jordan replied: ‘America wants me,’ before storming out the door.”

Jordan’s parting remark is so goofy that it demands a moment where we simply admire it. But back to analysis. “During” the meeting in one sentence, “aftermath” in the next. We see the attribution “House Republicans briefed on the meeting,” so that adds some weight to the “during” side. Unless the writers and editors just figured what the hey, say whatever. As to the door that Jordan stormed out of, naturally that door was open right then. But which door was it, to the outer office or Scalise’s private office? It makes a difference to the scene. Did the two men exchange words while Jordan barged through the outer office? That makes for a hotter, more emotional display than if the action all took place in the inner office. And if the door to the private office was closed, then we’d know the exchange was probably in the outer office. That’s probably, one admits, and not certainly, since as majority leader Scalise may have a private office so big that the door can stay open without people hearing all that much until voices are raised. But we don’t know, and the reason is that nobody bothered to include simple terms such as open, closed, or emerged (for example, “When the two congressmen emerged”).

The lesson: journalists always want to write about drama, but their first loyalty is confusion.

Another thing. Google keeps plaguing me with its are-you-human tests. I’ve never figured out why a bot would be googling, let alone googling [insert cute specialty interest trivia here]. I don’t say Google’s being stupid about that point. It’s just that the point makes no sense to me. The situation may be typical of AI or just me, but it’s the kind of thing I keep running into.


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