Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Evolution of a story
Here's where it started. A county in Oregon is drawing up a list of languages they might need interpreters for, with a specific eye toward mental health. Somebody says, "Hey, how about Klingon?" and since it isn't going to cost them any money unless they actually end up needing it, they throw it in. It was a "hell with it" moment, I guess, which are few and far between in county government. A local reporter writes it up, and the officials who wrote up the request come across as practical but slightly whimsical folks, like most of the small-town government employees I've met.

The Next Step. Associated Press picked the story up, but in the process it somehow changed from a whimsical "why not?" story to a "Federal law obligates us to do this stupid thing" story, and whatever sense of humor the folks at Multnomah County has displayed in the first story was firmly excised, to be replaced with dreary functionality. Also removed was the fact that no money had been spent at all, and that this was an attempt to describe every possible need, not a posting for an actual job position to be filled, both facts which had been eminently clear in the first version.

What happened then? Well, word got out that AP was pushing a story that wasn't true, and CNN, MSNBC and everybody else had jumped on because it sounded so damn good. And since this was America, I'm sure the folks at Multnomah County got an earful from the ignorant yahoos that are so foolish as to actually believe our newspapers, television, and radio when they say that something is true. So now AP puts out a new story explaining the actual facts as they have always stood, notwithstanding a deceptively written AP story: That no money was spent, and this was never an actual position to be filled. And the headline? "Search for Klingon Interpreter Called Off".

Charming.

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