Thursday, September 09, 2010

Cocktail Party Explodes

Just a month ago, the Great American Cocktail Party was launched right here (“Coffee, Tea, or . . . “ posted 8/5). Membership has quadrupled in the few weeks since the organization unfurled its banner.

And there, folks, you have two examples of what to expect lots of in the weeks ahead as we move toward Election Day in November. Many think we can’t get there fast enough.

The headline is designed to get your attention and compel you to read what promises to be an interesting item. The problem is, it has little to do with the actual story. This sort of sensationalism has been raised to a fine art by reprehensible rags like the National Enquirer, a “junk journalism” publication many of today’s internet authors and radio and television script readers seem to have adopted as their model.

Cocktail Party membership indeed has quadrupled. The deception here is one of omission. Membership was on the low side to begin with.

With a little practice, one could become expert at phony headlining and statistical manipulation. That could earn a lucrative job as a talk show host. And, if the editorial black arts were practiced adroitly with charts and graphs accompanied by raving and ranting, the perpetrator could become a famous television commentator.

Although the body politic may have been under whelmed by formation of the Cocktail Party, a few individuals were whelmed to some extent. Bill Hamilton, who retired as national head of publishing in the U.S. Forest Service, signed on and even suggested a motto for the fledgling party:

“A politician should have a pimp for a brother, so he’d have someone to look up to.”

Hamilton, a stickler for accuracy, was quick to point out that this statement originally chastised editors, not politicians. It appeared in "The Portable Curmudgeon," by Jon Winokur, 1987.

As an ex-editor, I winced upon learning that. However, considering the number of “editors” who love to conjure up sensational headlines and story lines and let all sorts of phony statistical usage and analyses get into print and on the airways, perhaps the slap was deserved.

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