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In Focus: No News, The Best News

Sheryl Longin wonders why the lamest stories are so often the most popular.

by
Sheryl Longin

Bio

February 28, 2008 - 12:46 am

Old habits die hard, as evidenced by two of the day’s most popular news items. The Democratic Party’s candidate of change is allegedly having a bit of a tough time weaning himself from politics as usual, while the nation’s Paper of Record wastes trees on an article too baseless even for the “ News of the World.”

I used the word “allegedly” in reference to the Obama piece because, according to Ben Smith at Politico, the Canadian embassy has flatly denied it.

So what do these two stories have in common and why do they generate such a flurry of attention and discussion across the internet? The answer to the first question is that they are both ur-examples of lazy journalism. While Senator Obama’s position on and statements about NAFTA are certainly newsworthy, the story that’s getting all the attention is an anonymous allegation that someone in his campaign called the Canadian ambassador to reassure him that the candidate did not mean what he said publicly. At the bare minimum, one would expect the author(s) of the piece to get an official response to the charge directly from the Canadian embassy. Yet not only didn’t the CTV item include one, but it was linked all over and inspired dozens of related blog posts, outraged comments, and predictions of Obama’s political downfall, before it occurred to anyone else to pick up a phone and call the Canadian ambassador!

The NYT story about McCain’s potential ineligibility to be president because of his birthplace is a different expression of the same sloth. This time it’s a journalist (and by extension, a newspaper) too lazy to cover a real story. Erudite refutations ensued.

But again, the number of them, when just one would have more than sufficed for a story so patently stupid, and the virality of the story across the web suggest (to me at least) a related answer to my second question.

Why are these non-stories over and over again the most popular and commented upon? Laziness, my friends. Non-stories invite non-responses. If the original story lacks substance, how much easier is it to comment upon? When an article lacks facts or substantiation, anyone can have an opinion that is just as valid as the author’s. It’s easy and even fun to get on a high horse about something which no one else really knows much about either. Let’s face it, we’re all a bunch of windbags. Disagree with me? Bring it on. You’ll be making my point.

Sheryl Longin is the author of Dorian Greyhound: A Novel and co-screenwriter of the movie Dick
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