Monday, December 04, 2006

"If You Can't Dazzle them With Daring..."

"...Then baffle them with bullshit."

So reads the job description for the Strib's readers' "representative." Well, I don't know that for sure, since I'm not privy to the Strib's internal HR documentation. Call it an educated guess based on current readers' rep's performance. One thing leapt out at me in Kate Parry's latest column regarding the newest revelations of possible quote cribbing by Strib resident editorial pooper-outer Steve "Hertz" Berg.

It concerned the process of promulgating attribution guidelines to prevent any future theft of East Coast left-wing pseudo-intellectual drivel (emphasis mine):

While the review may resolve this case, it's not the end of what the newspaper needs to do to reduce the chance of this happening again. Albright said she and editor Anders Gyllenhaal have discussed the need for clear guidelines on sound practices for compiling and attributing information.

To that end, I've continued working with Brenda Rotherham, recruiting and training manager, on the seminar I mentioned in the last column about preventing plagiarism and fabrication. Kris Bunton, chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of St. Thomas, and John Borger, an attorney who often works on First Amendment issues, have agreed to participate
.

Um...

What does the First Amendment have to do with stealing someone else's work or preventing plagiarism? I know that it's reflexive for douchebags - the work of many of whom can be found in the pages of the Strib - to fire off some inflammatory remark and then go scampering to hide behind the First Amendment like cockroaches do when a light is turned on. It's always irrelevant but always uttered. A good recent example might be the Dixie Chicks:

DIXIE CHICK: Just so you know, were ashamed that George Bush is from Texas.

FORMER DC FAN: Nobody gives a shit what you think. You're a bunch of overpaid vacuous minstrels who can't hold a candle to the genius that is Iron Maiden.

DIXIE CHICK: IT'S MY RIGHT!!! MY RIGHT !!! MY RIGHT!!!!! MY RIGHT!!! FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!! MEH !!! MEH!!!

Yes, some days it seems that the Marketplace of Ideas is having a closeout sale.

So why does the Strib need a First Amendment expert for this? If your car battery is dead, do you call in a chemist? Or, is Parry's invoking of the First just a cute method of reminding us about print journalism's vaunted role as Defender of Free Speech to distract the reader from the case at hand? What Parry, Steve "Hertz" Berg and the others neglect to mention is the very essence of the problem: some speech isn't free. Some of it you have to pay for before you can use it. Instead of hiring on a First Amendment lawyer to write plagiarism guidelines that - let's face it - are intuitive to the rest of us, why not tap the expertise of an attorney well-versed in a relevant part of the Constitution; like Article I, section 8:

The Congress shall have power to...

...

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

I guess stating that you've tapped the expertise of "an attorney who often works on Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 issues" just doesn't sound as sexy.

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