Think Again: Kill Me Before I Sing Again

04/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For days after it was published, the story "Sinatra Song Often Strikes Deadly Chord" in Sunday's New York Times sat at or near the top of the paper of record's most emailed stories. This is unusual because the story was a) buried inside the paper; b) does not bear on any significant political issue; c) does not have any gossip value; d) involves no celebrity; and e) will not help you lose your cellulite or improve your sex life. But what is really interesting about the story is that if you read it carefully, it's possible to conclude that there is no story there at all. Sure, it's got a cute premise. People in the Philippines are killing each other over karaoke versions of Frank Sinatra's "My Way." The headline cheats because "My Way" is really by Paul Anka and he recorded it, too, but let's give them the Sinatra reference since it's a pretty fair bet that most people associate it with Ol Blue Eyes and probably don't know or care who wrote it.

But look at the story itself. First off, about these killings. Exactly how many have actually taken place? Is it one? Ten? A hundred? A thousand? Your guess, it would appear, is just about as good as that of the reporter, Norimutsu Onishi, and his editors at America's most prestigious and respected newspaper. It might even be zero.

Take a close look at the details. First we learn that "the authorities"--there is no definition of who constituted an "authority" in this--do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling "My Way" in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines or how many fatal fights it has fueled. In fact, the story does not provide any evidence at all. Next we learn that the story's source for the extent of alleged murders--indeed its only source--is something called "the news media," which is said to have recorded "at least half a dozen such victims in the past decade."

Oh, really. Just what is "the news media?" In our country, the news media can be used to refer to Glenn Beck, the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, The New York Post, News of the World, Oprah, Jayson Blair, Joe Schmo blogger, or just about anyone with a modem or a mimeograph machine. You can assert anything if you source it to "news media sources," for instance that President Barack Obama is an illegitimate Kenyan communist-fascist aspiring murderer of old people and hater of his own mother. I imagine that in the Philippines, standards are every bit as lax for admittance into what this reporter calls "the news media," if not laxer.

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