Trying Too Hard

So here’s an example of what I call a story dying on the table. You had a thought, you went out, started reporting, seemed to find some stuff that supported your idea, but then, the next fifteen phone calls totally contradicted everything you thought you knew, and it’s starting to look like you’re full of shit, and you have this mishmash of stuff that doesn’t fit, doesn’t work and certainly isn’t a story.

Ordinarily, as a reporter, you’d go back to your editor and say, look, I thought I had it, I pounded on it as hard as I could, but it died anyway.

If you’re this reporter, however, you just suck it up and shove your thesis on top of a bunch of quotes thatin no way bear that thesis out:

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) of Pennsylvania once looked like a top-tier target for Democrats in their drive to take over the House. He’s a freshman, which in a typical election year would make him more vulnerable to defeat than longer-serving members. And his district, north of Philadelphia, has an increasingly Democratic tilt to it.

But Mr. Fitzpatrick has worked hard to distance himself from President Bush, particularly on Iraq. As a popular, longtime Bucks County commissioner before his election to Congress, he maintains a strong local identity.

“Fitzpatrick’s best asset is that he’s not a congressional insider,” says Amy Walter, House race analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. It also helps, she adds, that opponent Patrick Murphy is a young political novice.

Fitzpatrick’s name remains on handicappers’ lists of endangered incumbents, and he could still go down in the event of a strong Democratic wave.


For Republican Rep. Curt Weldon (news, bio, voting record), in his 10th term, his strength in Pennsylvania’s Seventh District has been in spreading federal largesse not just to his district but his entire region.

On the other hand, “Weldon’s been running around talking about weapons of mass destruction and the war, and so he has made the war his issue,” says Mr. Patti. “That cuts both ways.” Weldon also faces a strong, nationally funded opponent in retired Vice Adm. Joe Sestak (D), in a district that went Democratic in the past two presidential races.

Reporter: Republican incumbents are gonna hold on to their seats by forming close bonds with their local communities! Let’s quote some Republicans who are about to lose their seats because of a national meltdown to show you how successful the Republican local strategy really is!

Readers: Chocolate covered what the fucking fuck now?

Honestly. It is okay to kill a story when your reporter comes back with a bunch of stuff that says the story, you know, doesn’texist. You can shock it all you want with the paddles, but sometimes stories just die for lack of facts. There was nothing you could have done. Cover its face and move on.


6 thoughts on “Trying Too Hard

  1. “Chocolate covered what the fucking fuck now?”
    genius. will steal for my blog’s new tag line. thank you.
    – r@d@r, no-account blogeur
    ex-liontamer dot fullbleed dot net

  2. I’ll second that, without nicking the line for myself. Great post all around, short, sweet, to the point mixed with journo-experience and sprinkled with snark to give it a undercurrent of good kind of bitter flavor.
    Is there such a thing as Journalism Reform school?
    Theodoric of Brooklyn

  3. “Chocolate covered what the fucking fuck now?”
    Is there any wonder why I refer to you as the “Best Writer on the Internets”?

  4. But, they really wanted the story to be true. In their gut is was true, so the truthiness wins out.

  5. “Chocolate covered what the fucking fuck now?”
    Tea is now everywhere in my cubicle. My calico cat beanie is wiping it from her eyes.
    Mwah. Big kiss for starting my morning with such delicious, fortifying snark.

  6. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a “what the publisher wants the publisher gets” story. I had more of my share of these as a reporter – the worst being when the publisher got complaints from some of his Kiwanis cronies that they (or their wives) were being called for jury duty too often. I spent weeks logging the names of hundreds and hundreds of jurors called over a five-year period (the names were only available on those huge dot-matrix spreadsheets, not online back then), and NOT ONE PERSON had been called more than once. The trouble was we had both a state circuit court (2 year jury pool rotation) and a Federal circuit court (3 year rotation) in our town, and the morons couldn’t differentiate between the two when they complained about jury summonses.
    But did I get to dump the story? Ohhh no. What the publisher wants, the publisher gets, so I had to write 16 inches on how annoying it was to have two chances at a jury summons every 2-3 years.
    My husband was fired from that same paper for refusing to put his byline on a publisher-mandated story.

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