An irate reader’s voicemail left with the San Francisco Chronicle has become a bizarre Internet hit, proving that the green ink brigade is expanding into new media as rapidly as the journalists they harangue.
The paper’s new reader-feedback podcast Correct Me If I’m Wrong features a voicemail from a pedant outraged by Chronicle subs’ failure to spot the redundancy “pilotless drone”.
The rant, which goes on and on for nearly two minutes, is directed at a Mr Howe (possibly the paper’s business editor Ken Howe) about an article about civilian spy planes that ran in the paper on a Monday, 29 August.
First the reader rebukes Howe for his prolix construction.
“It says ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ — the word ‘drone’ is what you should have had in there,” he rails.
But then it gets more aggressive: “The subhead is a tautology: it says ‘Forest Service begins testing a pilotless drone.’ Mr Howe! Is there any other kind of drone? You tell me right now! Is there any other kind of drone? Drone? Drone? Anything other than a pilotless drone? Isn’t that what a drone is? An unmanned aircraft? Don’t you check these things? Don’t you supervise the subeditors who write these headlines? Don’t you do your job? Aren’t you there to ensure that the English language isn’t pissed on by your subeditors? There’s no such thing as a non-pilotless drone! They’re all pilotless drones! That’s the definition of drone! Pilotless airplane! Pilotless airplane! Drone! Not pilotless drone! Drone, drone, drone! Get it? is it sinking into your thick skull, you high school dropout?”
Prompted by a post on the technology blog Engadget, the phone call has been remixed, hilariously set to music and video and of course, posted to YouTube. Even a ringtone version for mobile phones has appeared.
The launch edition of a podcast going viral online is almost too good to be true, and the conspiracy theories are already beginning in the blogosphere.
Strangely, the article that prompted the torrent of abuse is impossible to find on the SFGate web site. As one reader of the Freakonomics blog points out, a clue in the call suggests that the recording dates from 2005, the last time 29 August fell on a Monday.
Or the grammarian might just have got his dates wrong. If it was from 2005, the call probably referred to an Associated Press report published one week earlier than he suggested. And in late August, 2006, other California news sources reported the impending test deployment of a Forest Service drone.
It seems the Chronicle, seeking to maximise the impact of its podcast launch, cleverly dug out a recording that has been an internal source of amusement for months.