They used to teach children that "reading is fundamental." In a democracy, for the voting public to keep informed, reading might be more than fundamental- it could be a matter of life or death. Naturally this assumes that an interested citizen can find accurate, honest writing by reporters actually bothering to check the facts. As any Fox News critic could tell you, repeating inaccurate statements lends a sense of authenticity to them.
Newsweek's "Chicken Little" cover story last week about asteroids and the (yawn) threat they pose to Earth. It has everything the editors of a magazine in decline might think is catchy. An opportunity for some nifty graphics, loads colorful prose, and with that recent Russian meteor, timeliness masking as relevance. And nothing collects random eyeballs like fear-mongering.
It's not that it can't happen. It's not that extinction by falling sky-rock isn't possible. Ask the dinosaurs. (Actually you can't ask them, which just goes to show you.) But that story just been done unto death and even a real-life example in Russia can't breathe new life into the subject. (Witnesses to the actual asteroid's pass-over seemed discerningly calm. We are all lucky it didn't set off a pesky nuclear war.)
When it comes to rehashing subjects like this, the general rule of thumb is: a subject is pronounced DOA whenever Hollywood has made two films about it. A television film? and it becomes a joke at the office.
Despite that, the story caught my attention. But halfway through the article I was stunned by one line.
"President Obama, canceling the shuttle and the manned mission to the moon and Mars, left open the possibility of one day landing on an asteroid."
That clause buried in the middle of the matter-of fact statement caught my eye. Any writer worth his/her mettle should have double-checked it instead of repeating the conventional- but wrong-wisdom. Any editor should have caught the mistake. Beside telling writers that it's "'I' before "C" except after "E," editors are supposed to check things. (And I am not referring to the failure to capitalize "moon.")