Breaking News 

But hey, I didn't break it. I found it that way.

THIS JUST IN!: The Idaho Statesman, previously owned by the McClatchy newspaper chain for well over a week now, has been purchased by the country of Dubai.

IN A RELATED STORY: CNN's Lou Dobbs is outraged! "What is wrong with America ..." fumed Dobbs, "... that we can no longer operate our own newspapers?" (Later in that same broadcast, Dobbs conducted an unscientific survey, asking his viewers, "Do you think there is something wrong with America, given that we can no longer operate our own newspapers?" The results were: 97 percent said "Yes." Two percent, "No." And 1 percent ... "Would you repeat the question please? I had to go the john.")

Ha! Just kidding. Dubai didn't buy the Statesman. I made that up. And the whole thing about Lou Dobbs? ... I made that up, too--although if you ever watch Lou Dobbs, you know he is 1) always outraged about something or other, and 2) always conducting unscientific surveys with his viewers, who generally seem to be as outraged as he is.

But I didn't make up the fact that the Statesman has been owned by the McClatchy newspaper chain for well over a week. They bought it from an outfit called Knight-Ridder, who had owned it for so long, I had to go into the dusty archival cavern to find out when they took control. (August ... can you believe it? Seems longer, doesn't it? I would have guessed June. July at the latest.) Before that, the paper was owned by ... uh, give me a sec, uh ... oh well, doesn't matter.

At the time Knight-Ridder purchased the Statesman, I did a piece humbly suggesting a few minor changes. It's not that I think I know how to run a newspaper better than they do. Certainly not. Sure, I do think obituaries have no place on the editorial page. (I always make a point of lining the bottom of the bird cage with Cal Thomas, but that gets damned uncomfortable when somebody's dearly-departed granny is just a column space away.) Whatsmore, I would rather see all the comic strips in one place instead of scattered all over like a sophomore's homework. And I'd prefer that sports news be confined to the sports section so's people don't get the mistaken impression there's something important going on. And someday, I hope to see the "Life" section stop looking like it was put together by a bunch of scrapbookers on a fruity sangria binge. And ... but okay, that's enough for now. I don't want anyone to start thinking I think I know how to run a newspaper better than they think they do.

But one thing I hope the new McClatchy bosses never change are the unscientific surveys. Yes, the Statesman conducts them, too. Just like Lou Dobbs. In fact, I see more and more unscientific surveys popping up in news venues all over the place, and I believe I know why. You see, unscientific surveys aren't like those Gallup or Pew polls where they actively contact people at random, then factor in a margin of error. Those polls may not be as "scientific" as we would prefer, but at least the pollers actually do something. You gotta give Misters Pew and Gallup credit for the effort, even if you aren't crazy about their findings.

On the other hand, unscientific surveys involve no more active involvement out of the surveyor than a question--usually starting with "Do you think ... ," and usually so loaded that to answer any way but "Yes" makes you an eighth-degree idiot. Now obviously, the people with the largest stick in their craw concerning the given subject are the most eager to answer, so the results are inevitably going to be as loaded as the question. And that's why they're called "unscientific" surveys, get it? In truth, they are much like walking into a crowded Garden City bar and yelling out "Anybody wanna cocktail?"

But why do it in the first place? Why, when they know in advance how people are going to respond, would newspapers and news programs conduct these meaningless charades? What is the point?

Filler, that's why. Something to take up space, whether it be newspaper space or air time, that's all those surveys are. Filler. And it has the added attraction of being free. Think about that, buddy ... when you answer an unscientific survey the Statesman conducts, you are helping them fill a space they would otherwise have to pay a writer to fill. Plus, they can turn around and sell you your own opinion! Sweet, huh?

Still, I enjoy them. Like letters to the editor, they offer a glimpse into what's making people nuts, and there's something deeply satisfying in knowing I'm not the most nuts person in the area.

So then, just to ensure the new Statesman owners don't do away with my beloved unscientific surveys, I am offering a few loaded questions they might ask in the coming weeks. This way, see, they don't even have to pay someone to write the questions. I'll do it! For free! How can you turn that deal down, Mister McClatchy?

UNSCIENTIFIC SURVEY QUESTION 1: Do you think it's highly likely that the White House only tapped Dirk Kempthorne to replace Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior because all the smart Republicans are running away from Bush like fleas from a burning dog?

USQ 2: Do you think that Kempthorne, as Secretary of the Interior, would be an effective leader in line with other stellar Bush personnel choices like Michael Chertoff and Harriet Myers, or will he simply sit at that big oval table with the rest of them, grinning like a Homecoming Queen and wishing he could wear his baseball cap to cover up his bald spot?

USQ 3: Do you think Phil Reberger, the central nervous system behind the vacant grin of more than one Idaho Republican apparatchik, will somehow find a way to end up in Washington D.C., just far enough behind Secretary Dirk that no one will see his mouth move when Kempthorne talks?

USQ 4: Do you think Jim Risch knew all along that the only way he would ever be governor is to grease in on a technicality, and that he knew beforehand exactly how this was all going to play out but it's OK with him because this way, even though he could never, ever, not-in-this-lifetime be legitimately elected to the office, he can demand that people call him "Governor Risch" for the rest of his life, and that's all he ever wanted, anyway?

There. I hope that's enough to keep those McClatchy folks in the unscientific survey biz for a bit. And when they've used up these, I'll write some more. It works out dandy for both of us, see? They get their filler for nothing, and I get paid for the column I make out of it.

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