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March 2012
Monday, January 7th, 2008 08:51 am

The PARADE news magazine in this Sunday's paper included an interview-based story about Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, which discussed the woman's political views, her future, and the ramifications of her possible return to power in tomorrow's Pakistani election.

The problem is, of course, that she was assassinated on December 27. The issue, which bore yesterday's date of January 6, mentions nothing about this.

A visit to the publication's website reveals that the issue went to press on December 19, and explains that there wasn't enough time to recall, reprint, and redistribute the issue. Nearly 400 responses have been posted so far, the majority of which roundly criticize this editorial decision.

My own personal barometer of doubt was triggered upon scanning the printed article and realizing it was written as if the woman were still alive. Immediately I tried out several explanations, discarding "there wasn't enough time to change it" as specious as "massive conspiracy" and "robot attack," and finally setting on "really careless editorial decision." Surely someone knew, I reasoned, but they decided not to change it. Knowing nothing about the logistics of periodical distribution in the electronic age, I also reasoned that at least ten days would be plenty of time to make a change, assuming perhaps that a national news magazine distributed with a local newspaper would electronically transmit the issue to the newspapers to print, rather than print more than millions of copies and ship them to hundred of locations across the country.

The biases I employed in my reasoning were based on personal experience and rational speculation about the way I think things operate, and included a basic, optimistic precept along the lines of in general, people don't do shitty things intentionally. Some of these biases turn out to be accurate, and some don't, and I learn new things about how the world works by comparing my own conclusions with those of others, and, if I'm lucky, with a factually correct answer.

In this case I found that an assumption I made was apparently wrong (the issues are printed remotely and shipped to local distributors). However, I'm still comfortable with my conclusion. Not that it matters to me much in this case; I never read this publication because for the most part I find it banal and poorly-written.

In other contexts, though, the presence of doubt is not so easily ignored or dismissed as inconsequential. What if a friend, for example, tells you something that doesn't ring true? A loved one? A parent, or child?

For me, the instinct the same as that above: to search for the correct explanation, after concluding that the statement is false (or at least not entirely true). But even though the context is more familiar -- the source of doubt being a person with whom you have a relationship and presumably a developed environment against which to frame the statement -- the resolution of such doubt often involves navigating murkier waters than investigating a statement or decision made by someone you don't know, or one that does not affect you. It is, in fact, because of this familiarity that the resolution becomes more difficult: there are far more explanations and nuances to consider; there's much more of a history to assess; and much more rides on the resolution than on a casual question raised by reading the Sunday paper.

This analysis is fundamentally directed by the reason(s) I think the statement is not true, and usually involves several difficult questions. The initial triggering of doubt is usually caused by what I can sometimes only describe as a "gut feeling" or an innate, instinctive presupposition. Maybe it's an honest statement but based on facts that aren't true. But once I suspect dishonesty, I ask where it lies in the communication chain. I break it down like this: is this person being dishonest (1) with himself, (2) with me, or (3) both? In other words, is he telling me what he superficially believes or wants to be true, even though he does not actually know it to be true? Or, is he telling me something other than what he believes to be true?

Personally, I'd prefer the correct answer to be (1), because of the precept above. I believe in the inherent goodness of people. Or maybe I want to believe that I choose to be friends with people of integrity, and I'd rather place the doubt on their choices than on my own. Probably both.

As if the complex, branching tedium above isn't challenging enough, one of the most difficult things is how to proceed once a conclusion is reached. I can't dismiss it because it's a goof-up in a publication I don't read or care about. My friend/loved one/parent/child has told me something that is untrue because he is not being honest with himself. The next step is crucial in determining how the relationship develops, and relies as much on the relationship itself as it does on the nature of the untruth.


Matthew Harris
Monday, January 7th, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC)

Ah, so the issue of Benazair Bhutto (interesting enough in itself), was just a lead in to the issue of the labyrinthine process of figuring out people's real motives, and our own process of trying to piece them out. Which I have nothing to add to, besides its a bitch, ain't it?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)


ReplyThread Parent
Monday, January 7th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)

This too bothered me -- although I found myself unexplicably drawn to reading the article to see if the author made some comment or wrote an addendum as to the assassination. Which then made me think; perhaps they left it this way so that people would in fact do what I did; and thus increase (at least one week's worth) of readership.

Monday, January 7th, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
"really careless editorial decision."

I'd be inclined to call it a carefully weighed "risk management" decision.

They were likely faced with 2 choices:

1. Let it run, or

2. Pull it completely and eat the months / weeks advertising revenue; and then get sued by 1/2 of the advertisers for damages incurred by not delivering an issue.

Add to that the unions would make it difficult and expensive for them to request the overtime and print a new edition over the holidays. They know when they have people over a barrel and make it hurt whenever they have the opportunity.

It would be one thing to appeal to them for something like 9-11, but in this case- nobody really cares about the former PM of Pakistan- so the cost-benefit analysis of pulling an entire run of your magazine is a no-brainer. There is no compelling reason to do it- It's not like the "public outcry" over this article is going to affect their revenues or reputation; because there won't be any outcry.

In a semi-related vein I remember a few years ago some Associated Press tribute obituaries for Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan were accidently "leaked" long before either of them were dead. They were complete multi-page affairs with photos, intetrviews and everything. The only thing missing were the date and cause of death.

Edited at 2008-01-07 07:11 pm (UTC)

I confess: You're a bigger idiot than I thought!
Monday, January 7th, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC)
Re: "really careless editorial decision."

You're right about the risk management part in general. I don't know if the employees who produce Parade are unionized (and I would argue that without unions it's the employers who have the employees over a barrel, but that's beside the point).

In addition, they're already on the issue for the end of January (they're what, three weeks ahead?). If they stopped to redo the Jan. 6 issue, they'd be behind with the issue running three weeks from now, too.

Now, back to littlebluedog: The usual practice in a situation like this is for each newspaper to note on its front page that "This issue of Parade went to press before Benazir Bhutto was assassinated" or something like that. Don't know if your paper did or not. It should have.

Also, don't forget Occam's Razor.

ReplyThread Parent
Monday, January 7th, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
Re: "really careless editorial decision."

In my brief time working with newspapers- my impression would be that it's not so much the actual "Parade" employees- it would be the printers and delivery folks at either the local papers, or the regional presses that I would expect to be teamsters.

ReplyThread Parent
Monday, January 7th, 2008 07:18 pm (UTC)

It would have cost them several thousands of dollars to try and do a reprint and a national re-distribution. Certainly it could have been done in time, but they would have done so at a severe loss (full color printing is not cheap, let alone staff time around the holidays), particularly at a time when newspapers are barely staying alive as it is. I am wondering why distributors, like The Oregonian, didn't decide to pull it on their own, though I don't know what kind of contract they are stuck with. I am guessing it ran simply because it was too costly to re-do, contractual obligations to distribute it and possibly to serve as an educational piece for the millions of Americans wondering who Bhutto was.

Righteous and Harmonious Fists
Tuesday, January 8th, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)

Tim, you can make this a lot easier on yourself by just remembering that PARADE sucks and you don't know why you're even reading it in the first place.

nitemare hippie girl
Thursday, January 10th, 2008 06:21 am (UTC)

lol, iawtc.

ReplyThread Parent