She lived in Shame!
If that headline grabbed your attention, you’ll love this fictitious story: “During a recent interview, Molly Muggins told reporters that her husband of 18 years was forced to move their entire family to neighboring Shame, Ohio, after he lost his job as assistant manager of the Chillicothe Wal-Mart.”Creating provocative headlines and subheads has become an art form. Many news organizations routinely write misleading headlines and either delay revealing germane information until the sixth paragraph or craft the story around insinuation, to wit:In a March 29 New York Times column, “What’s Going On?” Paul Krugman wrote, “Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through ‘Terri’s law.’ But there has been little national exposure for a Miami Herald report that Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement agents to seize Terri Schiavo from the hospice – a plan called off when local police said they would enforce the judge’s order that she remain there.”The problem with Mr. Krugman’s reference to the Herald’s story is that it wasn’t corroborated. In a TV interview, the Miami Herald reporter who wrote the story referenced by Mr. Krugman, stated, “I cannot verify the information except to say that we had sources.” In related reports, neither MSNBC nor FOX News found any state agents or local police who were aware of anyone at any time being sent to seize Terry Shiavo. So let’s get real here. If there had been a scintilla of evidence that state law enforcement agents were sent to Terry’s hospice, it would have all over the 6 o’clock news.Recently, a local high school asked several veterans, including me, to make presentations about our experiences in Vietnam. Fearing the possibility of boring the students with a lecture, I decided to make my talk interactive by using an actual event and asking the students to write the headline, the subhead and the first few lines of the story. The facts given to the students were as follows: During November 1969, a Marine reconnaissance patrol was ambushed by North Vietnamese Army troops, killing seven Marines and leaving a lone survivor. A search and rescue flight consisting of two CH-46 helicopters (one for the rescue, the other for contingencies). Two Huey (UH-1E) gunships to fly cover for the 46s were dispatched to rescue the surviving Marine.The situation was thorny: It was 3 a.m., the Marine was surrounded by a NVA force of unknown size in the mountainous jungle 60 miles west of Da Nang, the weather was deteriorating (heavy rain with 40 knot winds and a 500-foot ceiling) and the air crews were charged with finding a camouflaged Marine under a jungle canopy in pitch darkness.After arriving in the vicinity, the lead CH-46, piloted by the commanding officer of the squadron, flew under the ceiling with the Hueys but directed his wingman to orbit above the clouds because with such a low ceiling the flight leader did not want to bring an “extra” aircraft (one 46 and two Hueys were enough) into the tight box canyon in total darkness.Without modernday GPS, Marines in these situations had to talk the rescue aircraft to their position by the sound of their rotors. Recon Marines frequently carried 3-foot-long hollow cylinders and would insert a strobe light at the bottom and point the cylinder at the sound of the helicopters, thus giving the pilots a light to home in on while still concealing their position from the enemy. But Murphy thrives in combat zones, and upon seeing the flashing strobe light, the starboard gunner of the 46 (on his first night rescue mission) mistook the flashes for enemy fire and opened up with his .50 caliber machine gun. The Marine on the ground screamed into his radio that the 46 was firing at him, and the pilot and co-pilot simultaneously yelled to the gunners “Cease fire, cease fire!” Fortunately the Marine was unscathed, but the NVA on the ground, seeing a line of tracer rounds, now had an approximate fix on the rescue bird. All hell broke loose in an ensuing exchange between the North Vietnamese on the ground and the three helicopters in the box canyon.After maneuvering for about 15 minutes (all the while under considerable enemy fire) the pilots of the lead 46 pinpointed the Marine’s position and “backed” the rescue helicopter onto an outcropping, made a one-wheel hover-landing and got him on board safely. Following the successful rescue, the four helicopters returned to base. The three pilots and three co-pilots of the aircraft that flew into the jungle canyon proceeded directly to the skipper of the 46 squadron’s hootch to blow off steam and finished two bottles of scotch before breakfast and never filled out their after-action reports.In today’s polarized political climate, this is how that story might read: “Drunken Marines Disobey Orders,” with a subhead of: “Marines fire on their own.” And the copy: “The Associated Press has learned that 75 percent of the Marine pilots participating in a recent operation in Vietnam were found drunk instead of completing their required reports. None of the offending pilots were reprimanded because according an undisclosed source, their commanding officer authorized the drinking binge.”A “factoid” is an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print. Unfortunately, too much of what is written falls into that category. As for the students in Ms. Constien’s class at Red Canyon High School – well, their headlines and stories were factual and honest. So I doubt that The New York Times would consider them for an internship program. Butch Mazzuca of Singletree, a Realtor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at email@example.comVail, Colorado