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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Fake News and the Evil Ellipsis

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame said Caroline Winter of Bloomberg interviewed him for a profile about a week before the election, but only got around to publishing the piece this week. As he put it:
The article was initiated before the election, and was originally intended for publication about then. But a funny thing happened that ruined everything for Bloomberg. Trump won, and in so doing, he made me look like less of a nut. My accurate predictions, against all odds, would have been the headline in any article that wasn’t designed to be hostile.
Winter had a great story -- a true scoop -- which she spiked until this week for purely partisan reasons. What a hoot.

Adams did a blow by blow review of Winter's story, which while unflattering was not quite the hit job he had led me to believe it was.

Also, Winter updated the piece, and the editor did include two lift-out quotes that made Adams seem insightful.

Which, of course, he is.

The lift-out quotes:
“In the 3D world of emotion, where Trump exclusively plays, he has set the world up for the most clever persuasion you will ever see”
“I know that’s surprising, but the stock market is up, consumer sentiment is up. … It’s an impressive new management style that, as far as I can tell, is working”
Nevertheless, Adams pointed to 16 things he did not like about the story, including an unflattering photo:
Publications pick the photos that tell their bias, not the story.
True. I do it daily. But then this is a blog, not a news organization.

From Adams:
The headline says Trump hypnotized me. I would accept that as a hypothesis, but the article doesn’t address the point at all. The implication is that I’m a gullible nut-job, as opposed to one of the few people who predicted Trump’s win and provided lots of cognitive-science-backed reasons for the prediction.
Well, readers, here is what the headline said:
How Scott Adams Got Hypnotized by Trump
Come to his Dilbert-shaped home. Bite into a Dilberito. Be persuaded on genocide, mental orgasms, and his fellow Master Wizard, the president of the United States.
Like I said, it does not seem like quite the hit piece that Adams billed it to be, but maybe that was the Master Persuasion of Caroline Winter.

But I was not there so I am not going to quibble. What struck me, as a critic of Fake News, was the observation of Adams on the evils of the ellipsis in his Point 11:
The writer asked me what would happen for me personally if Trump won. I talked about the good and the bad of it. She picked only the following words to make me look like a douche bag: “If Trump gets elected, my profile will go through the roof, because I’m in a very small group of people who publicly said he would win in a landslide. … I’ll be very popular,” he said, with satisfaction.”
Notice the three dots before “I’ll be very popular.” That is your signal for a manufactured quote. They assembled it from bits of what I said and left out the context that would have rendered it un-douche-baggy.
I agree. I go out of my way to avoid the ellipsis to avoid the accusation of taking people out of context. Some people use the ellipsis as a comma in their writing, which I convert either into a dash or a comma when quoting them for clarity's sake because an ellipsis in a quote means you have left out words.

Not that I so not use them on occasion, but after reading the objection of Adams to being ellipsissed, I shall dial that down to zero.

(Also a reader recently complained about my use of acronyms, and so I will re-double my efforts to spell acronyms out. Clarity matters.)

There are also the evils the paraphrase, which is why readers should always seek the exact quote before pummeling the speaker. Occasionally the paraphrase is -- shockingly -- bass ackwards.

From Adams, Points 12 and 14:
12. This quote is out of context: “In the kitchen, Adams installed three microwaves so he “can make a lot of popcorn at once.” The missing context is that I designed the house knowing that whoever makes the popcorn for the rest of the family misses the first part of the movie. Plus, the extra microwaves come in handy all the time. I use them at the same time quite often. How did that come out sounding nutty?
14. This quote was cobbled together to make me look like a racist and a sexist because I write about Trump. “Adams has said, his professional advancement was thwarted by diversity hires. ‘There was no hope for another generic white male to get promoted any time soon,’ he wrote in Dilbert 2.0: 20 Years of Dilbert." (Later in the book, he noted that his Dilbert TV show was canceled after "the network made a strategic decision to focus on shows with African-American actors.") 
Both events are true, but in the first case she left out the fact that my bosses told me in direct language that they couldn’t promote a white male. I didn’t imagine it. Likewise, the UPN network literally made the decision to focus on African-American viewers at that time. It wasn’t just my interpretation of events.
Here’s the problem with that sort of reporting out of context: I’m also the guy who thinks men should stay out of the abortion question and leave it to women to decide what should be legal. I also blogged about my ideas for slavery reparations. I also described myself to her as “ultra-liberal” on social issues, because I am. If you leave out that context, the anecdotes sound like an explanation for why I grew up to be so terrible.
Again, both points are good tells of Fake News.

What was the point in between 12 and 14?
My girlfriend, Kristina, has an advanced degree from UC Berkeley, plays multiple instruments, has succeeded in several fields, and now has 3.3 million Instagram followers. The writer mentioned her bra size.
She is a D cup.

Adams has offered journalists a good insight and instruction on what they do wrong in writing a profile. The errors of Winter cannot be blamed on deadline, but rather result from commission.

Readers today are less trusting or forgiving of the media than ever before. I suggest re-doubling fact-checking efforts.

While Adams said he agreed to the interview because he knew it would be a hit piece (which would and does serve his purpose of showing media bias) there is a caution for white men to avoid discussing race in such interviews.

Men can say what they want about women without penalty. The war between men and women has been going on since forever, even pre-dating James Thurber.

Hillary's best attempt to use being a woman to her advantage failed as her numbers among women (54%) came nowhere close to the 95% support Obama received among black people in 2008. (He posted 56% support among women. She posted 88% support among black people.)

Race though is a minefield best avoided.

All in all, the piece served the purpose of Adams more than Winter. We know the latter is true because she did not post a "Meet the Man Who Knew Trump Would Win" story after President Trump's win which shocked the media.

And we know it served his purpose because the day of its publication, he wrote, "Some Fake News About Me from Bloomberg."

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  1. "She is a D cup." Reminds me of a group I heard many years ago on Dr. Demento: Ivor Biggin and the D Cups, Bras on 45.

    Who remembers when Bloomberg was a legitimate magazine?

  2. I'm so old I remember when reporters at least pretended they weren't in the tank for Democrats.

  3. Very simple solution. Insist before the interview starts that you, the interviewee, will record it.

    Anti hatchet job insurance. And deterrence.

    1. I would assume Adams recorded it for himself, but if he didn't, he is foolish.

    2. Any journalist who does a hatchet job knowing full well that a recorder was running at the time is even more foolish.

  4. Let's face it...Scott Adams throws Clyde Drexler dunks down on these liberal fools. And they're all waitin like, you ain't gonna a foul for unfairity? No, you bitches. You just got faced.

  5. "...not quite the hit job he had led me to believe it was."

    I disagree. This is exactly the subtle, carefully slanted reporting the mass media has been shoving down our throats for decades.

    Her goal was to make readers think Adams is kinda creepy without making it appear to be a hit job.

    The entire article is shaded to get that point across—all in a "faux objective" style that carefully conceals the hatchet work so that the casual reader wouldn't even notice it.

    I'm glad to see Adams stand up to this hack. —Burnsie

    1. I believe you're correct sir.

    2. I agree. I thought it was a hit job before I saw Adam's response saying it was a hit job.