I say it’s spinach.

Land sakes, but I had to keep checking the source of this overwrought, badly written story about the Columbus sniper. I thought the Washington Post had better editors than the ones who let this stinkeroonie into the paper:

ETNA, Ohio — The farmland in this part of central Ohio is as flat as an open palm. The economy has been depressed for years, but that hardly dents the persistent optimism of local farmers. Maybe the corn will grow higher this year. Maybe the tomatoes will be redder.

But this year there is a spookiness and chill cascading across the land. A brazen gunman has been roaming the rural roads and circling the interstate. For weeks the shooter was a ghostly figure, leaving behind only bullet holes. Then, Nov. 25, came the death of Gail Knisley, a 62-year-old woman who had been out for a doctor’s appointment, who planned to do some holiday shopping, a quintessential small-town soul, who appreciated when friends would drive her places.

That, right there, is parachute journalism at its worst: The phony-baloney scene-setting that lets readers know we’re in the capital-H Heartland, the boolsheet assertion of authority — I’ve never, I mean never in my life, heard a farmer hope for “redder tomatoes” next year — followed by the obligatory Ominous Chords of “spookiness” and “chill” which “cascades” across the land. And then the Victim, who can not be merely a small-town soul but a quintessential one.

Paragraph three: He was standing on an overpass, with a handgun, like a figure frozen in a movie poster for a western. Eyewitnesses found his calmness to be eerie.

Oh, really? “Officer, he was standing calmly. It was…an eerie sort of calm.” And while I’ve seen approximately a zillion movie posters featuring gun-brandishing figures, I’ve never seen one for a western that featured an overpass. But that’s just me.

And that’s only the first three paragraphs! It goes on for five pages!

I’d say “enjoy,” but, you know.

Posted at 4:27 pm in Uncategorized |

11 responses to “I say it’s spinach.”

  1. deb said on March 8, 2004 at 5:41 pm

    this reminds me of a screed a fort wayne reporter wrote about michigan city, on the eve of the prison’s first execution in decades. he called it “a grimy little city that rode an electric chair to fame.” grimace.

    also: the perennial OPTIMISM of farmers? makes me wonder how many farmers this reporter actually talked to. (i grew up in farm country. my grandfather was a farmer. my parents’ friends were farmers. and you, sir, are no earl butz.) if anything, farmers are perennial pessimists. this reporter must’ve been talking to the ones who’ve had lobotomies.

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  2. Nance said on March 8, 2004 at 10:52 pm

    Yeah, that was my first spit-take moment, too — I’ve never known an optimistic farmer, either. In fact, farmers are famous for assuming the worst about everything, to the point of absurdity. Bad weather means low yields, good weather means low prices, both of which they hate. I’ve often thought a happy farmer would be one who had a magic rain cloud that only visited his acreage, so he could have a bumper crop in a high-price year. Then he’d have to think of something else to bitch about, but it wouldn’t take him long.

    There were many, many other spit-take moments, though. Like, oh, this: Pataskala and Etna have the weathered-farm-community look that, no matter how hard Hollywood tries, it cannot duplicate. Old buildings, clapboard storefronts, the curved road leading into town. What the hell does that mean? And this: Fear was descending like daylight across the flat landscape, through the naked tree branches, beneath the bright blue sky. Huh?

    I mean: Huh?

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  3. alex said on March 9, 2004 at 12:05 am

    Sounds remarkably like the voice of tabloid TV. That thing could pass for the kind of narrative you’d hear on Dateline or 20/20 or 48 Hours, dubbed over some footage of farmland by a reporter who’s spent more time in the makeup trailer than on the beat.

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  4. ashley said on March 9, 2004 at 2:22 am

    I don’t even think it’s tabloid TV quality. It’s that condescending, “we know it all and you don’t, simple viewer” tone of small market TV consumer reporters.

    Jeez, I’m sick of unskilled media workers.

    Like they say, there used to be a handful of outlets owned by 4 companies. Now, there’s thousands of outlets owned by 4 companies.

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  5. Dave said on March 9, 2004 at 4:49 am

    My lord, didn’t those people look around the area? Farmland? Yeah, it’s rapidly diminishing farmland. My parents live not two miles from that last shooting near Etna and having grown up there, it’s become overwhelmed by mass suburbia. It’s the rapidly growing Pickerington-Pataskala mega-suburb, which will meld together someday, swallowing up tiny Etna.

    As for the fear factor, sure, no one wants to be shot driving down the freeway, that sounds silly to say when I read back what I typed but I was more afraid of the .22 caliber killers from nearly 30 years ago, who were roaming east-central Ohio, shooting people at random, and turned out to be two brothers from Kirkersville, roughly 30 miles east of Columbus

    As for farmers, you’re right on that. A more pessimistic bunch would be hard to find

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  6. Pam said on March 9, 2004 at 7:54 am

    Don’t they have some kind of contest for this type of writing? You know….”It was a dark and stormy night” type thing. To see who can write the worst story? This piece could win.

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  7. Michael G said on March 9, 2004 at 9:22 am

    That was the Kraft-Ebbing contest — No, No, Wait Wait. That’s something else. You want the Bulwer-Lytton contest. Actually you want the Rick Bragg contest. I think “condescending” is the right word here. This kind of over writing is unforgivable but it accurately reflects, I think, the attitude of a lot of media people in some big, sophisticated, urbane East Coast Cities like NY and DC toward the rest of the world. I notice it a lot here in California and it seems to go equally in other parts of the country. For evidence I offer the condescending and snickering coverage of the recent California recall election that was completely miscalled by the NY and DC press. But then the NYT bought the WMD story too. What ever happened to Judith Miller?

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  8. Nance said on March 9, 2004 at 9:32 am

    Oooh! Ooh! I forgot this part! Ahem:

    The Ohio shooter seen by an eyewitness was a white man in his thirties, maybe early forties. Around six feet. It’s a description, but it’s a kind of everyman-in-rural-America description. It might as well be George Bailey, the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

    I, too, was amazed at the glancing attention paid to the fact that central Ohio is not only farmland, but there’s a BIG GODDAMN CITY sitting right in the middle of it. The fact the interstate has a three-digit number might have tipped the reporter off that it’s a beltway, not a through-road. This is not a story about the country, for God’s sake.

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  9. Jim said on March 9, 2004 at 2:47 pm

    Is this the same Wil Haygood? If so, He’s from Columbus.

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  10. Lance Mannion said on March 9, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    Just to pile on. Jimmy Stewart was six-three. That’s a good deal taller than “around” six feet. And Bedford Falls was a mill town, not a farm town. George Bailey wasn’t a farm boy. He was the son of a banker who wanted to be an engineer. Guy can’t even get his cliches in order.

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  11. Jeff said on March 10, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    This really, truly, couldn’t be by the same guy who wrote “The Haygoods of Columbus” and who won all those awards at the Boston Globe . . . could it? Is there a Wil Haygood Jr.? Honest to Betsey, i cannot reconcile this turgid tale (and see, i use alliterative cliches, too) with the very unaffected writer of that book. I don’t mean to hint at anything awful (like an alien inhabiting his body, like Vince D’nofrio in MiB?), but could someone have switched bylines?

    There’s having a bad day, and we’ve all been there (lived there), and there’s. . .this. Someone owes either Wil Haygood or central Ohio (yes, i live just a few miles east of Etna) an apology.

    Pax, jeff

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