Americans (very much including American journalists) like superlatives.

They have a way of reaching for the sort of comparison that Mark Twain called a "stretcher." The most extreme current stretchers: U.S. involvement in Angola's civil strife is the country's gravest foreign intervention since Viet Nam (which, considering the difference in magnitude in the two situations, is misleading); the current recession is the worst since the Great Depression (which takes no account of how much worse the Depression was or of economic cushions built in since the 1930s).

Journalists do not save their stretchers for serious subjects but apply them everywhere —...

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