When a Nation Forgets Its Own Clichés (‘Uphill Lift’ Edition)

From our annual That’s Just Sad desk

As the hardworking staff wends its way through this veil – sorry, vale – of tears, we’ve felt obliged to keep track of the mangled phrases employed by our differently worded brethren, who go forth and multiply at an alarming rate.

At any rate, here’s the latest batch, in reverse chronological order.

• In mid-November 2017, one of the chin strokers on the ABC News podcast Powerhouse Politics said that Republicans in Congress voting on tax reform were “putting all their marbles in the basket.”

Actually . . . no.

You either put all your eggs in one basket or you play for all the marbles. Unless, of course, you’ve lost yours.

• That same day, Poynter’s Morning MediaWire, in a Donald Trump compare ‘n’ contrast segment, noted Dwight Eisenhower’s “ability to take orders, turn a chin and assemble giant military operations.”

In reality, you either take it on the chin or turn the other cheek. Of which Trump has quite a bit, no?

• In an early January 2018 New York Times interview with Maggie Haberman and Nick Corasaniti, Trump gofer Chris Christie “defended Mr. Trump as well as his own role in the transition, which he said went off the wheels after his departure.”

Not to get technical about it, but either the wheels went off the transition, or it went off the rails. And, yes, it definitely did.

• During NBC’s broadcast of the 2018 Winter Olympics in February, Adam Rippon said of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s short program in ice dancing, “Watching them . . . I could feel my hair grow.”

The hardguessing staff believes that’s a variation on the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, but it’s inspired enough to stand up on its own.

• Around the middle of March, Mike Allen’s Axios AM newsletter featured an item headlined Why China may not catch up to U.S. on AI. The reason? “The U.S.-Canadian side moves on a dime.”

Yeah . . . the headscratching staff is guessing he meant turns on a dime. We’re not sure what the two countries would move in this situation – maybe someone’s cheese? Then again, with Canada involved, there’s probably a tariff on that.

• In early April, New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi reported that David Smith, executive chairman of the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, said he “dislikes and fundamentally distrusts the print media,” adding that “[t]he print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble.”

Oddly enough, just weeks before that Fox News roboblonde Laura Ingraham had “rebuked  the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James for ‘talking politics’ during a recent interview — something the Fox News host believes is out of bounds for an athlete,” according to NPR’s Emily Sullivan.

“Shut up and dribble,” Ingraham told James.

Memo to Smith and Ingraham: Seriously mixed messages, you zany right wingers.

• Also in April, Politico’s Playbook noted a Washington Post piece by Joshua Partlow, who reported that “President Trump recently blasted Mexico as doing ‘very little, if not nothing’ to stop the flow of people across Mexican territory en route to the United States.”

Please, someone tell the Cheeto-in-Chief that the proper phrase is little or nothing. Thank you very little, if not nothing.

• Later that month, when  South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in Panmunjom in advance of the Trump-Kim Singapore summit, Axios’s Jonathan Swan wrote, “This is South Korea working overdrive to save the summit.”

Not to be undiplomatic about it, but South Korea was either working overtime or shifting into overdrive. Hold the nukes, please.

• In the middle of May, one of the chin strokers on Politico’s Nerdcast said of a candidate in a Pennsylvania primary race, “it was an uphill lift all along.” More likely it was an uphill battle or a heavy lift, but we don’t want to fight about it.

• In a July piece whose source we failed to note in our notes, the topic was apps collecting and circulating information off smartphones without the user’s knowledge. “We just scratched the tip of the iceberg,” someone said to someone else.

Not to be cold about it, but you either scratch the surface of something or just see the tip of the iceberg.

Then again, we just scratched the tip of the story.

• An August item in Politico Playbook asserted that “As of today, almost every Republican worth their weight in salt believes Democrats will win the House.”

Memo to Playbookniks: Things are either worth their weight in gold, or people are worth their salt – that is, good or competent at their job or profession.

Which GOP lawmakers these days are decidedly not.

More grains of salt next year . . .

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Student ‘Social Influencers’ Earn an F in Disclosure

From our kissin’ cousins at Sneak Adtack

College students have always been natural-born marketers. Among their friends, they toss off more winners and losers than a race course tout.

But increasingly, they’re touting for dollars, as Claire Ballentine’s piece noted the other day in the New York Times.

Their Homework: Pushing Brands Online

Noah Lamfers, a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, had never tried a 5-Hour Energy drink. But he still signed up to promote the brand online, getting paid to post images of himself and bottles of the product on his personal Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts. He tagged each one with #5houruintern.

Elizabeth Gabriel, a recent graduate of the University of Texas, posted a photo on Instagram of herself relaxing in her last year with a glass of wine and gazing at the latest Samsung tablet. It was one of 12 similar photos she posted for AT&T over 12 weeks. Her payment: a Samsung Galaxy smart watch and an Apple TV.

Alana Clark, a 21-year-old senior at Virginia Tech, is one of more than 200 college students across the country using their Instagram accounts to promote Victoria’s Secret Pink sportswear and undergarments. She also hands out free underwear on the quad.

Fun facts to know and tell:

• Riddle & Bloom, a marketing agency specializing in building “meaningful relationships with millennial and Gen Z consumers,” employs students from more than 500 schools in all 50 states, according to its website.

• On the Victoria’s Secret website, you can search for the names of its representatives at 100 campuses, in schools from Columbia University to Grand Valley State University.

• At Virginia Tech, as many as 1,000 of the 30,000 undergrads are being paid to promote products as varied as mascara and storage bins, according to an estimate by Donna Wertalik, director of marketing for the university’s Pamplin College of Business.

All good, yes?

Well, maybe not.

In the 26th paragraph of the Times piece, the reader learns this.

Under Federal Trade Commission rules, people using their personal social media accounts to advertise products are supposed to disclose on their accounts the brands they represent. For instance, Ms. Gabriel tags AT&T in her posts while also including the hashtags #sponsored, #ad and #att.

Except . . .

Check the other links in the Times piece and very few of them comply with FTC guidelines.

Random sampling:

The hardtracking staff doesn’t have empirical data on disclosure rates, but we’re guessing FTC guideline compliance is roughly equivalent to New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez’s current batting average.

That’s because those FTC guidelines have gone over like the metric system.

And no surprise there – the idea that the federal government can regulate marketing on social media is an absolute fantasy.

So fasten your seat belts, folks. It’s going to be a pumpy ride.

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Ayanna Pressley’s Campaign Makes It in New York, New York

The New York Times took a beating two months ago for whiffing on the defenestration of 10-term incumbent (and potential future House Speaker) Rep. Joe Crowley by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th Congressional district.

Apparently, the Grey Lady has resolved not to repeat the error in similar quixotic races, as yesterday’s front-page profile of Massachusetts 7th Congressional district hopeful Ayanna Pressley by Katharine Q. Seelye and Astead W. Herndon indicated.

Ayanna Pressley Seeks Her Political Moment in a Changing Boston

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — It’s not a sight you see every day, certainly not around Boston — a black woman mounting a plausible challenge to a 10-term white congressman from her own party, a politician with vast connections who votes the progressive line and opposes everything Trump.

But here was Ayanna Pressley, a Boston City Council member and rising Democratic star, exhorting volunteers in a Cambridge restaurant with an impassioned performance style she learned as a child at her grandfather’s storefront Baptist church in Chicago.

“This is not just about resisting and affronting Trump,” she declared, garbed in a flowing red jumper. “Because the systemic inequalities and disparities that I’m talking about existed long before that man occupied the White House!”

The crowd went wild.

As did the Times, some might say, considering that the paper gave Pressley a full-page jump.


Even better, Pressley got a Big Town bonus, hitting the NYC Dailies Double with this piece by Jennifer Levitz and Reid J. Epstein in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

Liberal Democrats Battle in Massachusetts

BOSTON–Only one Democratic incumbent has lost a congressional primary this year, and Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano is trying to avoid becoming the second.

Mr. Capuano, a down-the-line liberal who refused to attend President Trump’s inauguration, faces a stiff challenge from Ayanna Pressley, a Boston city councilor. Unlike other Democrats who have challenged incumbents from the left, Ms. Pressley has few policy differences with Mr. Capuano.

Instead Ms. Pressley, who is African-American, is making the argument that Mr. Capuano, a white 10-term incumbent who was the mayor of Somerville before going to Congress, isn’t enough of an activist on progressive issues for an urban district where racial minorities make up roughly 58% of residents.

The two face off in a primary on Tuesday.

We’ll see then how the New York papers play the result.

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NYT Uses Its Journalists Offline, Then Abuses Them Online

As the hardworking staff noted yesterday, the New York Times is increasingly turning its journalists into arm candy for revenue-enhancing commercial ventures, from Times Journey duty to high-powered busine$$ forums.

Meanwhile, the Times has stripped its homepage of their bylines.

Where Did the Bylines Go? Times Editors Respond to a Home Page Question

Our executive editor, Dean Baquet, and managing editor, Joe Kahn, explain our thinking regarding bylines on our home page.

We have updated our home page with a new design, and scores of readers have written to us regarding the placement of bylines on the page . . .

There will always be bylines on New York Times stories. We love to boast about our writers, their backgrounds and expertise, and the risks they take to deliver the news. In fact, we put our writers forward as never before.

But . . . “[with] the new design, bylines are now not displayed above summaries on the desktop home page. Desktop will now resemble mobile.”

Of course it will. Because it’s all about mobile now.

Then again, not everyone is interested in going mobile.

From Michael Calderone’s Politico Morning Media.

“I’m a huge fan of writers/reporters (obviously) and I could be in the minority here but I hate that the NY Times has removed bylines from its home page outside of op-ed writers. I know the bylines exist in-story but given the power of that home page, the bylines should be there.” [Richard Deitsch]

“Dear @nytimes: I’ve tried your new home page. I hate it with a passion. I want to see bylines for the main stories. I don’t want to scroll through junk to get to sections I like. And I don’t want news that supposedly caters to my interests. Can’t I keep the old home page? Please?” [Walter Shapiro]

“I’ve been reading NYT every AM since I was a high school freshman. The number of times I’ve read something I otherwise wouldn’t because I trusted the byline is literally countless. With my usual caveat that a lot of media conventions are dumb, I don’t see how readers served here.” [Wesley Lowery]

Amen, brothers.

Anyone checking with the sisters? You’ll find some here.

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Is the New York Times Pimping Out Its Major Journalists?

As our kissin’ cousins at Sneak Adtack noted the other day, the New York Times has been using its journalists as arm candy at a rapidly accelerating pace.

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi pointed out last year that Times Journeys excursions like the $135,000-per-person “Around the World by Private Jet: Cultures in Transformation” have raised a few eyebrows, given that “[a]mong those scheduled to join the traveling party are Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller, op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof and [then-] Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.”

But the Times’s trips raise a question among journalism ethics experts about ethics and access: Is the Times effectively selling its journalists to private interests? Could, for example, corporate lobbyists or political operatives sign on and seek to influence the Times’s coverage?

Although the question is largely theoretical, the issue has come up before in a somewhat different context. In 2009, The Washington Post aborted an effort to produce “salons,” or small private dinners that would bring together the newspaper’s top editors and publisher with government officials and industry lobbyists. The off-the-record dinners were to be sponsored by individuals or corporations willing to pay anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000.

Now comes Alexandra Bruell’s Wall Street Journal profile of New York Times chief operating officer Meredith Kopit Levien, which illustrates how tight Times marketing and Times journalists have become.

Two summers ago Levien brought Times Op-It Girl Maureen Dowd to the French Riviera for a sales pitch to Samsung.

Months later, the companies sealed a deal: the $14 million, 15-month commitment included Samsung “360” cameras distributed to hundreds of Times reporters, as well as heaps of ad space. The resulting 360 videos got prominent placement, some on the home page, and they carried a credit for Samsung.

Times executive editor Dean Baquet says not to worry, he didn’t force anyone to use the Samsung devices and “some found it really cool.” You have to wonder if some also found it cool when Banquet let a marketing executive from a financial group sit in on an editorial meeting to see “how the sausage is made.”

Regardless, the commingling of journalists and commerce proceeds apace.

Exhibit A from Tuesday’s edition.

Lineup of Times journalists.

There are ten – count ’em, ten – cooperators/sponsors/partners in all. That’s a lot of business to take care of.

Exhibit B from the same edition.

Random sample of a Times journalist drafted for Journey duty.

Hey, we get it that there are worse gigs than seven days “[delving] into the world of London theater with artists and artisans who work to create and maintain it.”

Let’s just hope the Times doesn’t start assigning those worse gigs.

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Recycling My 17-Year-Old Boston Globe Piece On . . . Recycling

Back in 1991, when curbside recycling was still in its infancy, I wrote a Boston Globe Magazine piece with the headline, “I’m Recycling As Fast As I Can (Label Removed).”

It wound up with this headline instead.

And etc.

Seventeen years later . . . the rejection stickers are back, as Yasmin Amer and Bob Oakes chronicle in this WBUR piece.

Facing Higher Costs, Cities Enforce ‘Cleaner’ Recycling

There’s a recycling crisis brewing in Massachusetts and across the country: It’s now costing municipalities more money to pick up our recycling bins.

The problem started at the beginning of this year, when China decided to stop buying recycled materials from the United States . . .

Officials claimed it was too contaminated with things like food waste and thin plastic grocery bags.

That, the piece says, “[is] forcing cities like Lowell to take a closer look at the recycling bins of homeowners.”

Bora Chhun, 27, is a recycling enforcement coordinator for Lowell. His job is to inspect recycling bins for any contamination. If there are items that shouldn’t be in the bin, he tags it with what’s called an “oops tag,” which is a piece of paper notifying the homeowner of what to not recycle.

Really? Oops?

Then again, it’s better than the solution the Brits came up with several years ago: BinCam.

BinCam’s upper lid has a smartphone that takes a photo of what you’ve just discarded. Upon review, it’s then posted to your Facebook profile where your recycling efforts compete with those of your so-called friends.

It was not well received by, for instance, a certain Leo Hickman, who wrote this for The Guardian.

‘BinCam’ is a rubbish idea that should be trashed

Researchers have developed a camera which photographs waste as it’s thrown away then posts it on Facebook

Here’s something I don’t get to say too often: I’m in agreement with the Daily Mail. For once, I find myself nodding at its frothing rage: this time over a new recycling scheme called “BinCam”. (You can probably already tell where this is going.)

The scheme being piloted by researchers at Newcastle University is, according to the Mail’s headline, a “snooping device that can record everything you throw away”.


It’s hardly surprising that the Mail has zeroed in on this project. It pushes all its readers’ trigger points: rubbish collections, over-reaching councils, privacy violations; scientists in ivory towers; evils of the internet.

But, for me, the over-riding reason why such a scheme is destined to be rejected by the public is that it is, yet again, an example of hitting people with a stick – this time, shaming by peers – to get people to recycle.

Good people of Lowell, take note.

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New York Times Gives Boston’s ‘Moulin Rouge’ Big Thumbs Up

Turns out it’s not just the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout who’s smitten with Boston theater productions.

New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley likes them too.

Songs to Sin By in a Smashing ‘Moulin Rouge!’

Its pieces zoom through the air like candy-colored shrapnel, whizzing by before the memory can tag them and making the blandly familiar sound enticingly exotic. I’m talking about the recycled pop hits, mostly of a romantic stripe, that make up the seemingly infinite song list of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” at the Emerson Colonial Theater here.

By the end of this smart, shameless and extravagantly entertaining production, adapted from Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie, you’ll think you’ve heard fragments of every Top 40 song of lust and longing that has been whispered, screamed or crooned into your ear during the past several decades. You may even believe that once upon a time you loved them all.

The production (through August 19) even gets the coveted NYT Critic’s Pick checkmark.

So, we guess, check it out.

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Quote o’ the Day (Trump European Geography Lesson Edition)

More evidence that the Cheeto-in-Chief is America’s first pre-literate president.

(The hardworking staff has already established that Donald Trump is America’s first cubist president – he’s been on every side of every issue.)

Anyway, the World According to Trump:

Man, that’s just embarrassing.

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Purdue Pharma Opioid Ads Keep Trying to Dull Sackler Pain

As the hardworking staff has resolutely noted, OxyContin pusher Purdue Pharma has been spending millions of dollars in an attempt to 1) adwash the Sackler family’s responsibility for hooking millions of Americans on opioids and 2) minimize the current blowback from all the bad publicity.

Toward that end, the pharmaceutical company ran yet another full-page ad in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

Make you nuts graf.

Given the Sackler family’s multi-billion-dollar enterprise in drug trafficking (see here and here), that claim is just crazy-making.

They make prescription opioids. Don’t you want them to limit their use of advertising to obscure their role in America’s opioid epidemic?

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These Stealth Ads Are Literally the Pits

This is the post our kissin’ cousin Sneak Adtack was born for.

From Ng Huiwen’s piece in The Strait Times:

No sweat: Japanese company sells advertising space on women’s armpits

Looking to promote your brand? No sweat.

A Japanese advertising company has come up with an unorthodox way to get eyeballs for its clients’ products – by placing advertisements on the armpits of young women.

The Wakino Ad Company, which recently began operations, has released photos on its website showing how this ad strategy could be used by recruitment portals, acting schools, detective agencies and more, reported Japanese website SoraNews24.

“Armpit rentals” start from about 10,000 yen ($120) an hour, according to the piece, which adds that “[u]nsurprisingly, the Japanese word for armpit is ‘waki’.”

For many years the hardtracking staff predicted that people would eventually sell their foreheads to marketers (sorry, no links – most of our life has been conducted offline).

That’s now obviously the case.

But this armpitch takes that trend to a whole nother place.

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