Just Above Sunset
July 4, 2004 - Sturgeon's Law and Zero Eight Foxtrot

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World’s Laziest Journalist

July 4, 2004

By Bob Patterson


We were running around in circles looking for the topic for this week’s column, so we took a break to read the letters to the editor part of Jim Romenesko’s Media News and found that the topic of lazy journalism came up recently.


An intrepid bloggernaut finds the topic of lazy journalism is also being discussed in other places.


On the last Sunday in June, this columnist had a meal with two well-known writers in the horror genre and they mentioned “Sturgeon’s Law.”  Ignorance of the law is no excuse and since we had never heard of this one; we asked what it was.  In 1958, Ted Sturgeon had said something in an interview that became Sturgeon’s Law: Ninety percent of everything is crap.


Using something that friends say to get the topic going obviously doesn’t require a great expenditure of energy.  A writer who doesn’t make the effort to look it up on the Internet and check it out is taking journalism shortcuts because what Sturgeon actually said was:  “Ninety percent of everything is crud.”  Checking to see if it is included in Bartlett’s 16th edition (it isn’t) isn’t exactly “going the extra mile” (disguised as a few feet across the room) but it does qualify as an example of expending some effort.


One website is running quality checks on the facts in the stories being written about this year’s campaign for the presidency, thus it will behoove the various reporters to be extra diligent about their work.  Presumably they will not just promote the image that one of the candidates was an F-102 pilot, but they will actually do some digging and find out when and where he underwent the four month training necessary to become qualified to fly that particular aircraft. 


Yes, as a citizen, it is good for those folks to assume that the president is telling the truth about the matter, but as journalists who don’t want to be accused of “lazy journalism,” they will probably want to show their readers that they went the extra mile (and not coincidentally impress their editor) by finding out when the president had the training, and perhaps add a few cogent details such as how high he ranked in his class and maybe (above and beyond the call) what his teachers had to say about their pupil and future president.


A columnist for a weekly online magazine might not have the foggiest idea of where to go and get that information, but (presumably) the trained experts at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and/or the “No Spin Zone” would be able to locate that information as easily as they could look up something in the Information Please Almanac.  A cynical writer (such as the most famous sports columnist in Colorado?) might shirk the work and intimate that he might just as well go searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.


Anyone who conformed to that path of least resistance (and easier) method would only confirm Sturgeon’s hypothesis.


They would learn quite quickly that the candidate supposedly (that’s why writers need fact checkers) took basic flight training at Moody Air Force Base from Nov. 25, 1968 to Nov. 28, 1969.  They will also probably check to make sure he passed that course and learn where he ranked in his class.  (He did - didn’t he?)  Then they would start earning their big bucks by presenting the facts about where and when the guy received the F102ANG1125D course that would have lasted 16 weeks.  (Was he the class valedictorian?)


[Apparently he did have a license to fly Zero Eight Foxtrot which had an interesting history.  (Was that one of those items that was seized by DEA agents and then auctioned off?)  Can you get a ticket for flying without a pilot’s license?]


Have you ever applied for a government job?  If you want to become a post office clerk you have to give (as I recall from filling out such forms in the Sixties) a very specific detailed report about your employment history.  An unexplained and unaccounted for sixteen-week gap was unacceptable.  A full accounting was a necessary element of the application process because of security concerns. 


If an applicant (admittedly the incumbent) can’t or won’t provide such a detailed chronicling of his life, then what should folks conclude?  It is that the postal clerk position is more important or is it that the son of a former president shouldn’t have to prove that what he says is true?  (Did any columnist at the New York Times ever apply for a government job?  Or do they go right from the college graduation ceremony to West 43rd St.?)


Recently some movie reviews have criticized filmmaker Michael Moore because he doesn’t present term paper like footnoting for the material used in Fahrenheit 9/11.  Obviously, then, asking for some details on a president’s job application form is not too obsequious, it’s just the same standards that would be applied if he were applying for a job as a carrier person at the Post Office.


Working for Just Above Sunset online magazine, this columnist can only become jealous when he sees friends and colleagues on big publications with prestigious reputations (Hi to Nick M., Steve R., and “ladder boy”) and (perhaps) getting a chance to tackle the big stories which will get attention from the aforementioned site assessing the campaign coverage as well as the Annenburg Political Fact Check site and maybe even the media matters site.


When you write for an online magazine, you have to be aware that readers in Charlie’s German posse, or in London or an Australian blogger might not find such material “fascinating.”  What could a columnist write about that would be unique and interesting?


Recently, Donald Trump trademarked the expression: “You’re fired!”


After a recent political incident (“the expletive heard ‘round the world?”) in the US, which our friends, who can just take public transportation to see the Tottenham Hotspurs play or have access to Surfer’s Paradise, may have heard about, we started wondering why Dick Cheney doesn’t trademark the expression that got him so much publicity.  Reportedly the American vice president told Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont to “go f**k yourself.”  If Dick wants a macho image, he should trademark that expression.  The royalties should add up to a considerable amount of pounds, francs, and Australian dollars.  However, it might be difficult to stretch that item out to fill an entire column. 


In Bartlett’s 16the edition, we learn that Plutarch wrote: “[Anacharsis] laughed at him [Solon] for imagining the dishonesty and covetousness of his countrymen could be restrained by written laws, which were like spiders’ webs, and would catch, it is true, the weak and poor, but easily be broken by the mighty and the rich.”


Now, if the disk jockey will play Wesley Willis’ song, “I Whipped Spiderman’s Ass,” we will (like Tarzan) grab the vine and swing on out of here.  Come back again in a week and we will welcome you back into our (Internet) parlor and try to spin an engrossing story.




Copyright 2004 – Robert Patterson







We asked veteran journalist Bob Patterson for a bio and he sent this along: 


Bob was born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania.


Graduated from the University of Scranton in . . . make that "way back when."


He has worked as a reporter and photographer for daily newspapers in California, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.  During the "way back when" phase of his life.


Did photo stringing for the AP’s Los Angeles bureau in the seventies.


Has done some freelance work.


Held other jobs to pay the rent and provide meals money.


Has written book and movie reviews, and columns for Delusions of Adequacy online magazine for the last four years.


Recently the DOA management reportedly traded him to the Just Above Sunset online magazine team for an undisclosed sum and two future draft choices.


He is known to be in the LA area and is considered dangerous.  If you see him, call for backup before attempting to get his autograph or some such fanboy nonsense. 




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
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