It was a dark and stormy night.

It’s a classic Peanuts© cartoon. Lucy is reading one of Snoopy’s stories.

Suddenly, a shot rang out.

She suggests that “suddenly” might not be the best word. Snoopy takes a moment to consider and then revises his opus.

Gradually, a shot rang out.


This past week, Joe Biden was (according to wide reports) expecting disappointing results in the New Hampshire primary. Breaking with precedent, on the day of the primary he left New Hampshire before the polls closed and went to South Carolina, where he has a strong base of support (according to his own reports). The TV headline crawl reminded me of this Peanuts© cartoon.

Biden abruptly cancels NH campaign party

As opposed to what, I wondered. Biden gradually cancels campaign party?

It doesn’t matter whether I think Joe Biden is an elder statesman or an aging goofball: This headline is not journalism, it’s commentary. The news was just this:

Biden cancels NH campaign party

Or, possibly,

Biden leaves NH before polls close

But adding “abruptly” suggests concern, dismay, maybe even disarray. It does not report a fact, it draws a conclusion in a sneaky way that makes it sound like a factual report.


I’m guessing they’re not going to cut it out anytime soon — not on either side. So it’s up to me to get sharp. Suddenly. Maybe even abruptly.


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12 Responses to Classic

  1. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – you make an excellent point and the sad part is that most “reporter’s” don’t even realize they are doing it. I’ve lost count of the number of times a reporter has said they are in Tyendinaga territory near Belleville at the Mohawk blockade of the CN rail lines , making it sound like the blockade is on Reserve land.

    The blockade is actually on private land outside the Reserve and the reporters are even further outside the Reserve as the blockade is between them and the Reserve.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – Well, I likely don’t see my own bias, either. 🙂 But I would have thought that someone in news organizations was paying attention to subtle stuff like this. Words matter.

      • John Whitman says:

        Interestingly enough, ever since the PM returned to Canada, reporters have begun calling them illegal blockades, whereas before, they were just calling them blockades.

        Maybe the PM thinks a change in messaging will be enough to get people to be less irritated by those blockades.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          John – I’ve pretty much given up on trying to discern the reasoning behind political messaging.

  2. Tom Watson says:

    A shot rang out “gradually?”

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    I had a boss who used to rail at news-errors. Such as “With its landing gear crippled,, the plane landed safely.” It didn’t land safely, he would rant — it landed safe. If you have to use an adverb, it would be “The plane landed dangerously, but safe.” He would argue that most reporters don’t actually think before they file a story, and there are times when I agree.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Mmphm. As someone who has worked with hard deadlines, I respect the ability of journalists to get it even close to right given their daily deadlines. On the other hand, I think there’s lots of subtle (and maybe unconscious) commentary that goes on. That shouldn’t!

  4. Isabel. Deep thanks for reminding me of the Bulwer-Lyton awards, which convulse me every year or nearly so when I remember to find them at

    If you never have indulged, allow me to recommend them to you. Or perhaps you could throw caution and literary consciousness to the winds and compose an entry or two with some inspiration from journalists following politicians struggling with trilemmas into the dark and stormy night.

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