Much as the quality of hospital care typically dips when new residents start, a phenomenon dubbed “The July Effect,” so too there is an old joke that the quality of journalism goes south during the summer as vacations loom large.
A recent story by Paul Haven of the Associated Press, “Famously Loquacious Fidel Castro Discovers Brevity,” will do little to change impressions of lazy summer journalism. The piece investigates uncharacteristically terse and esoteric statements from the former Cuban president, known best for his five-hour speeches and Castro “charisma.” Lately, Castro has released strange statements on everything from white mulberry’s virtues to the fact that yoga masters “can do things with the human body that can hardly be imagined.”
This had the potential to be interesting story that traced Castro’s movement from a deeply powerful—if flawed—leader to a more diminished figure. If Haven could have placed this transformation in the context of Fidel’s life or the country’s history, even better. Instead, the author knits together sketchy comparisons and quotes from internet comment boards.
Describing the befuddlement of many citizens after Castro used the ambiguous term “FC,” Haven attempts to underscore his point using the least reliable or authoritative source possible: a comment chain on the internet. “I WOULD APPRECIATE IF THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF, OR ONE OF HIS AIDES, EXPLAINS WHAT ARE THE FC,” a poster writes. This being the Internet, an answer comes shortly: “‘For me, it’s clear what FC stands for,” another commenter ventures, before listing a string of vulgarities.
The writer also makes clunky comparisons between Castro’s short “Reflections” and tweets. Are we so starved for an adequate description or metaphor that we can only compare things to Twitter? Despite the fact that all of Castro’s statements are too long to be tweets, what relevance do these statements have to social media?
Being writers themselves, journalists can usually handle stories about prose and oration with a certain deftness. Unfortunately, this patchwork howler has gone fishing.