John McIntyre has an excellent post today on why it’s important to know what the hell words actually mean. He calls out Atlantic Wire writer Adam Clark Estes for claiming that GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul “furrowed his eyebrows” during a CNN interview prior to “storming off completely.” The video of the interview is embedded within the story in question, which was published by the National Journal.
You should read McIntyre’s post, as he does a better job than I could at explaining precisely why “furrowing the brow” is impossible (by way of pointing out exactly what “furrow” means). But the real lesson here is one all reporters—irrespective of publication medium—would do well to write on a Post-It note, carry around with us, and stick above our computer monitors prior to beginning any article.
Reporters report what happened. Sometimes what happened is boring. That’s OK. As you’ll see in the CNN interview, Paul gets agitated after fielding questions about newsletters he once published in the early nineties. At one point, the exchange between CNN’s Gloria Borger and Paul becomes visibly uncomfortable. For the most part, though, it’s a standard interview. It needs to happen, because journalists are tasked with holding political figures accountable, but the interview itself isn’t going off like fireworks on July 4th.
But at no time is Paul furrowing his eyebrows; and while it isn’t clear (from the video clip) if Paul abruptly ended the interview, or if Borger was finished with her questions, it is clear that he didn’t “storm off”—that is, angrily, suddenly, and hurriedly leave the room (possibly with the microphone still attached to the lapel of his jacket). To say he did is sloppy reporting, primarily because of the imprecision, and especially because writing it in such a way attaches a connotation—unfavorable to Paul—to the entire exchange.
Reporting, at times, can be boring. But accuracy is paramount. If all a person did was leave the room, it’s best to just say so.