Sunday, October 06, 2002

The Small Amount of Bass

On Saturday, October 5, 2002, the Martinsburg (W. Va.) Journal for carried a story about EPA Admininstrater Christine Todd Whitman’s visit to Harpers Ferry, where she met with fifth-graders from the C. W. Shipley Elementary School to talk about water quality:

Whitman signed a few autographs before checking in with another small group waiting at the water’s edge with the results of their water temperature test.

‘The water temperature down here is 76. The small amount of bass will be happy, but not trout,’ James Cook, 10, told Whitman with authority in his voice. ‘It has to be 60 or below for the trout to be happy.’

Whitman chuckled and nodded approval.
What was it, exactly, that caused Whitman to chuckle? Did James really say “small amount of bass” when he should have said “smallmouth bass?” Was she chuckling at James’s nonsensical remark? Is that the point the Journal was making? If so, why would the Journal publicly embarass a 10-year-old by putting this quote in bold print?

The water temperature down here is 76. The small amount of bass will be happy, but not the trout. It has to be 60 or below for the trout to be happy.

--James Cook, 10
But what if James correctly said “smallmouth bass?” I would have to think that any 10-year-old making a presentation in front of a public official of Whitman’s stature would have been well-coached by his or her teacher. If that was the case, then Whitman probably “nodded approval” at James’s accurate understanding of the effects of water temperature on different species of fish. This scenario, of course, presumes that the staff writer made a mistake--hearing and reporting “small amount of bass” instead of “smallmouth bass”--and that the Journal’s copy editor didn’t catch the mistake.

I don’t know which of these interpretations is correct, but in either case, it wasn’t a particularly well-written story on the part of the Journal.

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