In other words, an incident in which two public officials can fight over who is more patriotic than the other is evidence, in Purnick's mind, that things have returned to normal. As she says: "Some of it is silly. All of it is welcome."
FRIDAY JANUARY 18
More than occasionally, the Times will unwittingly run two articles next to each other that, if you scratch the surface a little, are almost exactly the same story, only with different contexts. There's a good reason why this happens, if not often, more often than you'd think, and that is this: formula journalism uses a limited number of templates, particularly in the news section. If you're a Times reporter and you're assigned to write an analysis of a rise in one-day shootings one day, and then on the next day you're asked to write about a sudden outgrowth of successful community newspapers, you're going to be searching for the same story elements for each piece. In both cases you're looking for quotes and statistics explaining how and why the great beast that is the public -- an animal that roams some squalid habitat somewhere outside the newsroom -- is behaving in some mysterious way.
In case A, you're asking experts why the beast goes crazy every now and then and unexpectedly shoots its bosses. In case B, you're asking experts to explain why the beast keeps pouring money and attention to its own shitty little local newspapers, even though it already has the New York Times. The tone of scientific detachment will be the same in both articles, and because the same kinds of authorities will be quotes in both places, the pieces will usually differ from each other only as much as one Mad Lib does from the next.
There was a great example of this phenomenon in the "National Report" section of today's paper. Two pieces were hilariously similar: "A Bird That's On a Lot of Hit Lists", on page A12, and "In Famously Tolerant City, Impatience With Homelessness", on page A14.
Both pieces are about specific communities struggling to cope with local vermin. The former, written by Jodi Wilgoren, is about a kind of fresh-water cormorant in Michigan that has bred out of control since being put on the endangered list in 1972. Because it feeds on game fish, it has incurred the wrath of the human populations in its habitat that depend on the sport-fishing industry. The piece is told largely through the eyes of Michigan hunters and fishermen, who are campaigning to receive permission from the government to massacre the pesky animals.
The second story, written by Evelyn Nieves, by is about the growing number of homeless people in San Francisco, and the settled community's "increasing frustration" in dealing with them. Though it leads with a quote from a semi-articulate homeless woman, it is basically told from the point of view of officials who are struggling to gain acceptance for stern measures that would criminalize irritating homeless-person activity like urination and defecation.
The stories have some amazing similarities, even specific similarities. Here's a passage from the cormorant piece:
"Critics say their feces contaminate water and leave parasites that cause swimmer's itch. Their nesting grounds, including several of the Les Cheneaux Islands that dot Lake Huron, deteriorate into fetid graveyards of skeletal conifers."
The homelessness piece also refers several times to the problems caused by homeless people "urinating and defecating", and also addresses the question of contamination:
"The Department of Public Works now sends crews fanning people through the streets, waking homeless people and scrubbing down their sidewalk sleeping place with disinfectant..."
Both stories quote exasperated locals colorfully expressing their impatience. From the cormorant story:
"'I'd pull troops and carriers out of Afghanistan and napalm the rookeries,' declared Mr. Clymer, 47, whose business card identifies him as a 'problem solver' for computer and environmental systems. 'For years, they've done fighter runs over the Great Lakes to practice bombing. Why not the real thing?'"