The weight of a jar of spaghetti sauce
I read in the paper last week that 35-year-old Chris Hatfield was riding his snowmobile along the North Shore State Trail near Two Harbors, Minn., when a barred owl hit him on the facemask of his snowmobile helmet. He was knocked off his sled and knocked out. The outer layer of his facemask was shattered and he ended up with "two shiners, a cracked nose and a little whiplash." And it's no wonder. The newspaper report indicated that an adult barred owl is 21 inches high and weighs 1.6 pounds. "That's about as much as a jar of spaghetti sauce," the paper reported. The account did not indicate whether the jar for the spaghetti sauce was glass or plastic, which would make quite a difference, and said nothing about the condition of the barred owl whose environment had been invaded by the KO'ed Mr. Hatfield.
What struck me about the story is that if the comparison of the weight of a barred owl to a jar of spaghetti sauce became the accepted wave in news reporting, we can be expecting some colorful descriptions, and we won't have to page through fiction writing to find them.
For example, President Obama has just selected a new Chief of Staff, somebody who will direct traffic in the White House. Undoubtedly, the reporters will describe him. It is possible his distinctive appearance could lead to an unfriendly report like this: "The new Chief has a perfectly round face, like the face of a clock, but strangely, his left ear is positioned at 2:00 and his right ear is at 8:00. He has a nervous habit of licking his lips when he's stressed and his wagging tongue reminds you of a pendulum." Then, if the poor fellow has heavy-duty whiskers, they'll be writing about his "5:00 shadow." Don't scoff, this is where that jar of spaghetti sauce may lead. You can imagine how the cartoonists will draw the guy. They'll clean his clock.
Once the writers focus on an irregularity, they repeat and embellish. So when the nervous and energetic Chief of Staff speaks, his words will "come gushing out like soda from a can of Pepsi that's just been given a vigorous shaking." That will be followed by cartoons of a clock face gushing Pepsi. It will be a brutal ordeal for the unfortunate Chief whose ears are not on a horizontal plane. The last Chief of Staff, the tough guy, Rom Immanuel was out after two years. The new guy won't last that long.
If the jar of spaghetti sauce style of reporting had started before World War II, it might have changed the course of history. When the war started in Europe in 1938, Dwight Eisenhower was a little-known lieutenant colonel who might have been described as "a strong, silent, soldier-type with a friendly face, a big grin, and a hairline in rapid retreat." Four years later, the hairline could have been described as "in unconditional surrender." But there was serious business at hand and the reporting was serious and straightforward, dealing with ability, not appearance. So Eisenhower, unburdened with any possible "unconditional surrender" baggage, was made a four-star general and named supreme commander of the Allied armies in Europe. He organized the successful D-Day Invasion and defeated Hitler. At the end of the war, he was considered a hero and was named the first military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and later elected 34th President of the United States. No jar of spaghetti sauce reporting in those days.
Is there some way to nip this spaghetti sauce reporting in the bud before it grows into a monster and eats us up? It appears that the first report of the snowmobile-owl collision was in the Duluth News Tribune. If the Tribune would just reassign that creative reporter to the sports section, he could be directed to do a post-mortem on the 2010 Minnesota Vikings to describe how Brett Favre's ego, rolling around in his head the size of a 16 pound shot-put, was only the tip of the iceberg, but it sank the Titanic, leaving few survivors and only tears and bitterness in its wake.