There was a bit of a brouhaha yesterday when Clerks director Kevin Smith was told by Southwest Airlines that he was too big to fly in a single seat. The details are available for anyone interested enough to type “kevin smith” and “southwest” into Google. However, I thought this was interesting. This morning, CNN’s newsroom blog posted an item on the issue, including a photo of Smith. Here is a screen capture of the page.

Stretched image?Is it me, or does that photo of the admittedly portly Smith look like it’s been significantly stretched on the horizontal axis?

Every course I’ve ever taken on journalism ethics has emphasized the idea that unduly manipulating photographs is verboten. Consider the case of the infamous TIME Magazine cover of O.J. Simpson’s mugshot, which was desaturated and otherwise altered, presumably to make Simpson appear more menacing.

CNN’s post this morning might not be quite as odious as TIME’s gaffe, but it’s certainly a cheap attempt to make Smith look larger than he actually is.

UPDATE: Looks like they’ve fixed it. Compare the current version with my screen capture.

Since finishing my master’s degree in political science, I’ve been engaged in the thankless task of job-hunting. If it goes on much longer, I might turn this thing into an “unemployed journalist” blog, which will track the travails of your humble narrator through his inevitable let-downs and negative response emails.

In the meantime, though, I’ve found a couple golden opportunities (which I will not share here, since I am not about to start making the competition for them any worse than it already is). One, in addition to requiring the standard resume and clips, also assigns homework: critique the politics and features section of a recent edition of the publication.

That is today’s “To-Do” item; it will follow a haircut and run to the store for supplies.

Matt Drudge has been a mainstay of the Non-Mainstream Media since he “broke” the Monica Lewinsky story on his site (after having it “leaked” to him by Newsweek, whose owners wanted to see how the story would “play” before running with it themselves). Mark Halperin (co-author of the recent political scoop-fest Game Change, which is currently on my bedside table) has apparently referred to Drudge as “the Walter Kronkite of his era,” according to his Wikipedia page.

But Drudge is actually a partisan hack. I know this is not actually a shock to anyone with a modicum of intellectual honesty, but I figured an illustration from today would be apropos.

This evening, here is what his lead headline looked like:

Drudge's front page, 1/28/2010Oooo! What could be going on?

Well, let’s click the link and find out what the story has to say. Obama must have really screwed up to be reversing himself on this New York City terror trial thing, huh?

The headline, “PAPER: OBAMA ORDERS JUSTICE TO MOVE TERROR TRIAL OUT OF NYC” links to this New York Daily News story: “White House asks Justice Department to look for other places to hold 9/11 terror trial.”

Okay, just to review, here’s Drudge’s headline link:

“PAPER: OBAMA ORDERS JUSTICE TO MOVE TERROR TRIAL OUT OF NYC”

Reading the actual story — the story Drudge himself linked to — we find out that he could not have written a less-accurate headline.

In the first edition of the story (which as of this writing had been updated at least once), the Daily News explained that what had actually happened was that someone from the White House had asked (a little different than “ordered”) Eric Holder’s Justice Department to “look into” the “possibility” of another venue than the federal district court in lower Manhattan.

This specific verbiage is scrubbed from the “updated” version of the story (which includes more quotes from various NYC officials, a couple unnamed sources, and New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer), but nowhere does even the new story indicate that anything other than a consideration of alternate locations is going on, or that these alternate locations are actually outside the city of New York.

Drudge’s headline is misleading in almost every choice of words (other than, perhaps, “PAPER”).  Let’s parse it, shall we?

OBAMA — No, it was actually “White House officials.”
ORDERS — No order to move the trial has been made, simply an examination of other possible venues.
JUSTICE — This is technically accurate as long as you take “Justice” as shorthand for “Justice Department,” but it’s less confusing to use “DoJ.” As it reads now, “Justice” sounds like the term for a federal judge, implying that the president has “ordered” a specific judge to move the trial, which would of course be out of order… which is exactly the implication Drudge is trying to convey.
TO MOVE — See “orders.”
TERROR TRIAL — Can’t really fault these two words, although they’re deliberately salacious.
OUT OF NYC — Again, the Justice Department isn’t necessarily considering a move out of New York City.

Since Drudge isn’t really a “journalist,” per se, but merely a “news aggregator,” his job is to point people to stories. To do that, his stock in trade is headlines. In every news writing and editing class I’ve ever taken, an error in fact results in a 25-point deduction from an assignment’s score. With three glaring errors in fact in this headline, that gives Drudge a total of 25 percent for this lead item… a resounding F.

UPDATE: Well, looks like the DoJ is caving after all. That doesn’t excuse Drudge’s precipitous headline, which was still wrong at the time.