Category Archives: journalism (examined as writing)

can the sun “grin”?

 

 

 

 

I learned in yesterday’s New York Times about the passing of my former journalism professor Maurice (Mickey) Carroll, who died on December 6th.

 

“Maurice Carroll, Political Reporter and Pollster, Dies at 86”

By Sam Roberts

The New York Times

December 6, 2017

 

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Mickey Carroll was a tough, dapper Irish guy and an outstanding reporter on the Times’s city desk for many years. He taught me far more about writing than any of my other journalism profs; it wasn’t even close.

It’s a truism that the best way to learn any skill is to do it. Well, besides lecturing, Carroll meticulously critiqued our writing (stories we had to report and write as class assignments).

I would hand in a story to him. I remember one was when he let the class interview him press conference style and we were assigned to write a profile of him. “This is very good,” he said to me, handing back the paper a day or two later, “but it’s too long.”

I kept tightening up my work. I began to appreciate how important space limitations are in a newspaper. For a feature article, it’s usually six hundred words. Six hundred words meant just that: six hundred words. If you wrote, say, 615 words, your editor would be unhappy, having to do the work himself of excising a “graf” from your story.

I would hand in papers that I thought were as carefully and tightly constructed as I could make them, with no superfluous words. They would come back with red lines drawn though maybe ten or fifteen words or phrases that I had never realized were superfluous. A that, say, where it could be dispensed with.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Professor (and seasoned reporter) Carroll told us a funny story in class one day which illustrates the frustrations he himself had experienced as a writer. He finally left the Times for another paper. He said the final straw was when he once assigned to cover the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan.

The lead sentence in the story he turned in was “The sun grinned on the Irish yesterday.”

Grinned was too colorful a word for the copy editor at the Times, which was known for bloodless prose. (It still is, but efforts have made over recent years to make the writing more lively.) For “grinned,” the copy editor substituted some more generic verb.

“That did it,” Mickey said.

I could identify with the frustrations he felt with pettifogging editors.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 7, 2017

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Addendum:

 

Sam Roberts, one of the Times’s best obituary writers, and an outstanding writer in general, wrote the obituary. He notes: “Known to be cranky but easily amused, Mr. Carroll would often pepper his reporting with wry and iconoclastic asides.”

That’s how he was in class: the teacher/editor who applied principles of “tough love” to improving the writing of his students, while doing it with wit and grace. And, he showed us how, while adhering to strict standards of newspaper writing, you could also have fun and work in a quip or an amusing detail or two. Shoehorn it in, that is, word length permitting.

“He never lost his reporter’s perspective, though, advising would-be journalists never to take themselves too seriously, no matter how important the news they’re covering may be,” Sam Roberts writes.

I found this to be true. He was a complete professional, and, as such, he was never out of character in class, yet he himself was a character.

He stressed that his vocation was that of REPORTER, and he once told a story to illustrate what that meant.

Early in Carroll’s career, a reporter on the Times’s arts desk, a cultural critic, was somewhere in Manhattan at some event or performance one evening. As he was leaving, he observed that a big fire had broken out in a building across the street. He telephoned the Times from a pay phone, shouting, “Get a reporter here immediately! There’s a fire!”

He was a reporter,” observed Carroll, who happened to be at Dallas Police Headquarters on one of his first reporting assignments when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. “He was there. He should have covered the fire.”

highfalutin hogwash; pseudo intellectual inanity; pernicious pomposity, perverse pontificating (take a hike, Spiro Agnew! you too, Bill Safire!)

 

 

 

Two things are pertinent to this post — form a background to it, so to speak.

First, this past March, I wrote a blog post:

 

“Racism Rears Its Ugly Head”

Racism Rears Its Ugly Head

 

about objections to a painting by the artist Dana Schutz based upon photographs of the mutilated body of Emmett Till, the black teenager who was murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955, which was featured in the 2017 Biennial exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan. Protests had arisen over the work. I am in principle opposed to the destruction of art for reasons of political correctness.

Secondly, I am working on a post of my own about the craft of writing. I want to be able to illustrate it with examples of both good and bad writing.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

With these things in the back of my mind, I read an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times which stopped me cold, that was so bad it was unbelievable. I thought to myself, how did it get published? I posted an angry comment on the Times site, but the comment did not get posted. No doubt, the Times editors found it inappropriate. Strange, because often comments posted in response to Times opinion pieces are not well written or articulate; and, in fact, many are obtuse and display ignorance and lack of acumen.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The piece that has astounded me with its badness and inanity is

 

“The Art of Destroying an Artwork”

by David Xu Borgonjon

New York Times

October 25, 2017

 

The Times article merely indicates that “David Xu Borgonjon is a curator and writer.” Googling him at

 

http://laundromatproject.org/david-xu-borgonjon/

 

 

I found out that “[David Xu Borgonjon] is a curatorial fellow at Wave Hill and is the co-founder of Screen, a bilingual Chinese and English platform for media art commentary. Currently he is preparing a series of “Strategy Sessions” for Summer 2015, a professional development workshops for artists using board games as metaphor. David has coordinated the Gallery of the Women’s Center at Brown University (where he graduated in 2014 in English with honors in a Dual Degree program with the Rhode Island School of Design).”

And so forth. The information on the site may be slightly dated. Wave Hill is a 28-acre estate in the Hudson Hill section of Riverdale, Bronx, in New York City which consists of public horticultural gardens and a cultural center which includes an art gallery.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

One has to read Mr. Borgonjon’s piece in full to get a feel for its awfulness. It is a textbook example of flawed writing built upon cockeyed premises. A key problem is that the piece is too abstract, is not tethered to fact. One might ask, what’s wrong with a conceptual piece of writing, with exposition for the sake of exposition? Is there such a thing as too abstract? Yes, there is, and Mr. Borgonjon’s horribly written piece shows how this can occur.

It’s very hard to even figure out what he is talking about. One has to wade through the piece, which is tortuous reading, a ways to get some idea of what he is talking about. This, right away, indicates a problem. There are some would be intellectuals/thinkers and writers who seem to think that nebulous writing is a sign of great thoughts percolating in a genius’s mind, thoughts which he or she can’t waste time trying to explain to us. That it is our duty, should we wish, to come up to their level. This is ridiculous.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The following are some excerpts from the op-ed du jour, followed by my comments (in boldface). Good luck in figuring out what the writer’s fulminations mean.

“But there’s a problem with this binary formulation, which opposes the sacrosanct art object to the interests and demands of the public. Curators need to think about more creative ways to withdraw art from public display. Rather than thinking of calls to remove art as either right or wrong, institutions should think of them as creative opportunities to reimagine who their public is.”

This is pure nonsense. Highfalutin language signifying nothing. Jargon laden mumbo jumbo. The underlying premises are flawed and the views imbedded in them are toxic and pernicious. Idiotic premises lead to idiotic conclusions.

“What we should be asking, instead, is how it should ‘go.’ A work of art could be destroyed (burned, buried, shredded), edited, documented, mourned or even substituted. It could be supplemented with performances, talks, protests. It could be turned into minimalist furniture for the museum cafe, or sold on eBay, with the proceeds going to charity.”

Pure nonsense. How can the Times publish it? “It could be turned into minimalist furniture for the museum cafe, or sold on eBay, with the proceeds going to charity.” Is he serious? If he is, it’s sad. No, deplorable.

“Contemporary art theory has long held that the artwork takes place not in the moment of creation or exhibition, but rather in the ways that it circulates in the world. That’s why withdrawal isn’t just a negative act. The museum is actively putting the withdrawal into the world, which will then circulate beside and on top of the artwork, as a rumor, a footnote, a filter. I am arguing for a creative acceptance of the pressure to withdraw an artwork, rather than either outright rejection or reluctant acquiescence.”

Here we have an example of what might be called “over abstraction,” supposedly weighty observations, disguised as such, which amount to pseudo profundity. There is a pretense of deep thought, and nothing more. Everything is made perfectly UNclear. It shows an incapacity for thoughtful or meaningful analysis.

“Social media has changed how we communicate, and social inequity continues to differentiate how we feel. These dynamics are changing the way we curate. For one /thing, the work of exhibition-making no longer ends when the show opens. Instead, it continues as a process of listening, a public performance that goes on for months.

“In some way, as curator Hera Chan points out, the dynamics of the platform economy threaten to make curatorial expertise obsolete. Who needs us when institutions can figure out, thanks to social media, crowdsourcing and machine learning, audience preferences quickly and accurately? The difficult question of who ‘we’ are, when we are faced with a controversial artwork, is the curator’s only remaining raison d’être. Consider that exhibitions don’t have a standard rating system, like movies or music — at some level, we must believe that every show should be accessible to all of us. Like churches or public television in a different age, museums are now our civic institutions, where we go to argue about who counts as ‘us.’

“The ‘should it stay or should it go’ approach fumbles the opportunity to broaden and enrich what that “us” is. It’s a difficult question, and we will not agree, but even asking it together creates a kind of community. It falls to curators to facilitate this conversation. Institutions, following the lead of artists, should respond creatively to the call for censorship. Perhaps the withdrawal of the artwork can make room for something else to come into view: a new public.”

Claptrap. Nonsense. And, like the nonsense genre, almost impossible to decipher.

“Fumbles the opportunity”? An infelicitous phrase if there ever was one! This writer clearly knows something about fumbling, from experience, displays verbal ineptitude that is plain to see.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

I am almost inclined to say that this piece should be censored. It’s that bad, both as a specimen of writing and as an attack on art by someone who deems himself a curator. Of course, I’m against censorship. But beware of such writing by persons who pat themselves on the back for being in the intellectual vanguard. It’s just plain awful. And, as I’ve already said, it’s pernicious in its “know nothing” views worthy of a troglodyte and highly objectionable in a so called curator, presumably devoted (ha!) to preserving and promoting art. How about destroying? Anyone game?

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 26, 2017

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

COMMENTS

 

Pete Smith, October 28, 2017
You are bordering on the pompous here yourself I think. Don’t disagree with your main point, I guess, but among many other things in your post, one could reasonably posit that “an infelicitous phrase” (correcting your typo — I think you didn’t mean phase, which makes no sense) is in itself an infelicitous phrase.

 

 

Roger W. Smith, October 28, 2017

Yes, it is, Pete. Thanks for catching the typo. I don’t see how you can call the post “pompous.” Am I missing something?

 

Pete Smith, October 28, 2017

Yes.

 

Roger W. Smith, October 29, 2017

My asking, “Am I missing something?” was a rhetorical question inviting you to demonstrate how, in terms of what I wrote, the piece is pompous. Your “Yes” was a snarky response mean to trivialize what I said, what I went to great lengths to show.

Exerting intellectual effort to express strong disagreement is not pomposity.

a superb craftsman (Jim Dwyer)

 

 

 

Jim Dwyer is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and columnist for The New York Times. When I was an intern and freelance reporter at New York Newsday, Dwyer was writing an “In the Subways” column for the paper, which made him popular.

This post regards Dwyer’s op-ed piece:

 

“The Transcendent Incompetence of the L Train Fiasco”

The New York Times

January 12, 2019

 

 

I have always felt that Dwyer is a very good writer, and this piece demonstrates why. It seems to be true of all good writers — Dwyer is no exception — that they never write a weak or inferior piece.

 

 

****************************************************

 

 

My analysis.

Dwyer starts off with a clever lead which enables him to arouse reader interest, and to say something provocative and original. What the reader would not be anticipating. It’s true in writing as in music: Surprise, taken in the broadest sense of the word, can often show ingenuity and arouse interest. But novelty (an unexpected idea or fact thrown into a piece to startle or amuse the reader) will not necessary work by itself. It depends.

The lead:

In a famous medical study, two doctors traced a chain of errors that brought the wrong patient, a “Mrs. Morris,” to an operating room for an invasive heart procedure that she did not want, did not need and that no one had actually ordered for her.

It turned out that 17 separate mistakes were made before anyone realized that the wrong woman was on the table. Thankfully, Mrs. Morris was not harmed. The doctors said it was an “organizational accident,” meaning that one person could not have done it alone. Sticking tubes into the wrong person’s heart required mess-ups by many people.

One day, Mrs. Morris may be joined in the great case studies of near blunders by New York’s L train fiasco. This one took a team of people, too.

So, Dwyer takes the reader by a commodius vicus of recirculation to the here and now. In January, “Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the startling announcement that New York City’s L subway line, whose East River tunnel was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, could remain in service while fixes were carried out.”

To New Yorkers like myself who use the L train, this was indeed welcome news, a major development.

Then, Dwyer gives the reader needed context and background: “In April [2019], the line was to stop serving Manhattan for 15 months so the repairs could be made in the river tunnel. Its users had spent two years planning alternative routes and, in some cases, finding new places to live. They are just a fraction of the city’s subway riders, up to 300,000 people a day. But that’s more than the ridership of most mass transit systems in the country.”

He goes on to demonstrate, convincingly, why shutting down the L line for over a year was not necessary. Engineers who have been recently consulted have concluded this.

An important part of a freshman composition course is learning how to make transitions. Many writers, including experienced ones, do this heavy handedly and awkwardly. Dwyer continues:

Which leads us to the next question: [italics added] If the planned new repairs would be as safe and durable without requiring closing the line, why didn’t anyone think of them before? Shouldn’t someone downstream of the governor have thought to bring in outside experts for a fresh look, given the disruptive stakes?”

A seamless transition. Such transitions are most effective when the piece itself is coherent. Where the inner logic and the flow of ideas are apparent and, therefore, easy to follow.

With regard to the next paragraph:

Some people are skeptical about this new plan, in fact, precisely because it was driven by Governor Cuomo. That’s good. Without skepticism, society collapses. But this entire episode illustrates a failure to be skeptical. And it shows us the risks of ignoring what it means to fail, at scale, in a booming city that grows every month. It didn’t have to be the governor asking for a better way. But no one else did.

This paragraph shows one of Dwyer’s key strengths, and illustrates an important principle lost on many academics. Good writing mixes the pithy — fact based, anecdotal writing — with generalities. By generalities, I do not mean vague ones, or truisms. I mean that the writer is always trying to draw out the implications — the inferences — of what he or she is saying. Constantly moving back and forth, so to speak, between providing information to the reader (as well as context) — in the form of facts, anecdotes, data — and teasing out the implications of what they all mean, making sense out of the “facts” (in fictional detective Sergeant Joe Friday’s memorable words). Or, to put it another way, is balancing the factual and informational with explication. Example: Theodore Dreiser grew up in a family where German was often spoken at home. As a writer, he always struggled with the basics of written English. He has often been said to be an awful writer stylistically.

Dwyer goes on the explain the intricate managerial and organizational structure of the subway system, a bureaucratic tangle. He concludes by saying that “The price of all these people being in charge is that no one owns the work.” A sentence which nails the whole point and thrust of the piece down.

He then goes on to say:

In all walks of life — engineering, politics, transportation — there is a fine line between the earned wisdom of experience and the toxic self-regard of a credentialed rut. (That goes for journalism, too. For most of the time the L train shutdown was in the air, I was writing a column in the New York section of The Times. No one stopped me from asking questions. I just didn’t.)

Pedestrian writing? I don’t think so. In the work of a master craftsman, there is much to admire. The first sentence of the above paragraph is a brilliant one. It says so much simply. It gets the reader to think. It suggests a new and propitious way of looking at things. His parenthetical admission that “No one stopped me from asking questions. I just didn’t.” shows humility and self-awareness. By including himself among others (e.g., administrators and politicians) who should have questioned the need for an L train shutdown, he actually strengthens the points he is trying to make.

His concluding paragraph is brilliant:

Mrs. Morris landed on an operating table for a procedure that she didn’t want or need, and that no one had ordered for her. New York City wound up being prepped for a different kind of surgery that it surely did not want or need. This organizational accident took a lot more than 17 errors.

 

 

— Roger W, Smith

   January 13, 2019

J-school students, give heed!

 

 

Yes, I’m a J-school grad. M.A., Journalism, New York University, 1988.

All journalism students are taught, first and foremost, the importance of the LEAD.

Here’s a stupendous one:

Without it, if you are a New Yorker of a certain age, chances are you would have never found your first apartment. Never discovered your favorite punk band, spouted your first post-Structuralist literary jargon, bought that unfortunate futon sofa, discovered Sam Shepard or charted the perfidies of New York’s elected officials. Never made your own hummus or known exactly what the performance artist Karen Finley did with yams that caused such an uproar over at the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Village Voice, the left-leaning independent weekly New York City newspaper, announced on Tuesday that it will end print publication. The exact date of the last print edition has not yet been finalized, according to a spokeswoman.

 

— “After 62 Years and Many Battles, Village Voice Will End Print Publication.” By John Leland and Sarah Maslin Nir, The New York Times, August 22, 2017

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2017

a nutty op-ed

 

 

I could not help but think of my recent post

 

“After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

“After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

 

when I read an op-ed piece by Gail Collins in today’s New York Times:

 

“Dogs, Saints and Columbus Day”

The New York Times, October 6, 2017

 

*****************************************************

 

 

It has taken me a while to realize it — I kind of liked her op-ed pieces at first (while never being that impressed by them or struck by her thoughts) — that Gail Collins is a weak writer. As this piece shows, a very poor writer.

She begins the piece with Christopher Columbus, specifically the statues of him across the country to which protestors object and which some have been desecrating.

After a digression, she writes that Christopher Columbus, whom she is writing about because it will be Columbus Day on Monday, has been “been on a slide for a long time” (an awkward phrase), has been reevaluated as not having achieved such great feats as an explorer as he had been said to and criticized and/or vilified for having perpetrated atrocities on native peoples.

She then gets to her key point, which every op-ed piece must have: “Our current statue obsession began, naturally, with Donald Trump, who claimed that if people start to remove monuments to Robert E. Lee, the next thing you know, they’ll be eliminating George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, since they were both slave owners.”

“This is obviously nuts,” Ms. Collins writes.

It is not “obliviously nuts,” despite the fact that Donald Trump said it.

Is she trying to emulate General Anthony Clement McAuliffe, who in 1944, responding to an ultimatum that he surrender to German forces, replied as follows: “To the German Commander. / NUTS!”?

Such an abrupt, peremptory dismissal by Ms. Collins — which she feels entitled to make in such a fashion because she assumes none of her readers would take anything said by Donald Trump seriously — of a sound point that requires thoughtful rebuttal proves nothing other than Ms. Collins’s weakness as a thinker who cannot go beneath the surface, and her flaws as a writer.

She goes on to say:

Robert E. Lee was perhaps a nice man and a good general. But his point was winning a war that would have divided the United States for the purpose of preserving slavery.

You judge historical figures by their main point [italics added], because if you demanded perfection on the details you’d have nobody left but the actual saints. … The point of George Washington’s career was American independence. Thomas Jefferson’s was the Declaration of Independence. I say that even though I have never been a huge fan of Jefferson, who was possibly the worst male chauvinist in Founding Fatherdom. [Note that she has to make the point about Jefferson being a male chauvinist to satisfy her readers that she is criticism-proof correct politically.]

The point of Christopher Columbus was exploration. Although people knew the world was round, they had no idea how long it might take to get around it. Columbus’s goal was to try to make it to the other side of the planet. He sailed out into the great unknown and brought back word of his discoveries.

And so on.

This is very weak thinking.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Since when was it decided that one should “judge historical figures by their main point”? What does this mean, either as a guiding principle or in practice? How would it work? Since when do individual persons — historical figures, leaders in the present, and everyday people — amount to a POINT. A controlling idea? Since when could they be summed up that way, given the actual complexity of human personality, human motivations, and human actions?

What was Lyndon Johnson’s “main point”? (The Great Society or the Vietnam War?) Or Richard Nixon’s “main point”? What was George W. Bush’s?

What was JFK’s main point? The New Frontier? What was that anyway? It’s awfully vague.

This is simplistic, fuzzy thinking of the worst sort. It’s an attempt at dissimulation by which the “good guys” in history can be gotten off the hook for doing “bad” things such as racism or owning slaves, while the “bad guys” are still held accountable.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

A final thought. Ms. Collins says: “Our current statue obsession began, naturally, with Donald Trump [italics added], who claimed that if people start to remove monuments to Robert E. Lee, the next thing you know, they’ll be eliminating George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. …”

This is totally inaccurate, and I find it hard to fathom how she could be so misinformed as to make such a claim. The controversy over historical monuments dedicated to and buildings named after Confederate heroes, slaveholders, and other historical figures considered racist has been going on since long before President Trump’s statements about the Charlottesville violence, which were made in August of this year.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 7, 2017

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Addendum:

 

I am working on a new blog about writing examined from all angles. I have found that, in trying to ascertain what the elements or good writing are, it helps to occasionally look at bad writing. Ms. Collins’s article is an example of bad writing that is founded on a weak premise and is jerry-built. This kind of writing seems to be the product of a writer wanting to have something to say and be clever, but writing hastily or flippantly without serious reflection or doing any preparation.

why some op-ed pieces bomb; or, should

 

 

 

indigestible genericspeak

 

“#MeToo Has Done What the Law Could Not”

By Catharine A. Mackinnon

The New York Times

February 4, 2018

 

The #MeToo movement is accomplishing what sexual harassment law to date has not.

This mass mobilization against sexual abuse, through an unprecedented wave of speaking out in conventional and social media, is eroding the two biggest barriers to ending sexual harassment in law and in life: the disbelief and trivializing dehumanization of its victims.

Sexual harassment law — the first law to conceive sexual violation in inequality terms — created the preconditions for this moment. Yet denial by abusers and devaluing of accusers could still be reasonably counted on by perpetrators to shield their actions.

Many survivors realistically judged reporting pointless. Complaints were routinely passed off with some version of “she wasn’t credible” or “she wanted it.” I kept track of this in cases of campus sexual abuse over decades; it typically took three to four women testifying that they had been violated by the same man in the same way to even begin to make a dent in his denial. That made a woman, for credibility purposes, one-fourth of a person.

Even when she was believed, nothing he did to her mattered as much as what would be done to him if his actions against her were taken seriously. His value outweighed her sexualized worthlessness. His career, reputation, mental and emotional serenity and assets counted. Hers didn’t. In some ways, it was even worse to be believed and not have what he did matter. It meant she didn’t matter.

These dynamics of inequality have preserved the system in which the more power a man has, the more sexual access he can get away with compelling.

It is widely thought that when something is legally prohibited, it more or less stops. This may be true for exceptional acts, but it is not true for pervasive practices like sexual harassment, including rape, that are built into structural social hierarchies. … If the same cultural inequalities are permitted to operate in law as in the behavior the law prohibits, equalizing attempts — such as sexual harassment law — will be systemically resisted.

This logjam, which has long paralyzed effective legal recourse for sexual harassment, is finally being broken. Structural misogyny, along with sexualized racism and class inequalities, is being publicly and pervasively challenged by women’s voices. The difference is, power is paying attention.

Powerful individuals and entities are taking sexual abuse seriously for once and acting against it as never before. No longer liars, no longer worthless, today’s survivors are initiating consequences none of them could have gotten through any lawsuit — in part because the laws do not permit relief against individual perpetrators, but more because they are being believed and valued as the law seldom has. Women have been saying these things forever. It is the response to them that has changed.

Revulsion against harassing behavior — in this case, men with power refusing to be associated with it — could change workplaces and schools. It could restrain repeat predators as well as the occasional and casual exploiters that the law so far has not. Shunning perpetrators as sex bigots who take advantage of the vulnerabilities of inequality could transform society. It could change rape culture.

Sexual harassment law can grow with #MeToo. Taking #MeToo’s changing norms into the law could — and predictably will — transform the law as well. Some practical steps could help capture this moment. Institutional or statutory changes could include prohibitions or limits on various forms of secrecy and nontransparency that hide the extent of sexual abuse and enforce survivor isolation, such as forced arbitration, silencing nondisclosure agreements even in cases of physical attacks and multiple perpetration, and confidential settlements. A realistic statute of limitations for all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment, is essential. Being able to sue individual perpetrators and their enablers, jointly with institutions, could shift perceived incentives for this behavior. The only legal change that matches the scale of this moment is an Equal Rights Amendment, expanding the congressional power to legislate against sexual abuse and judicial interpretations of existing law, guaranteeing equality under the Constitution for all.

But it is #MeToo, this uprising of the formerly disregarded, that has made untenable the assumption that the one who reports sexual abuse is a lying slut, and that is changing everything already. Sexual harassment law prepared the ground, but it is today’s movement that is shifting gender hierarchy’s tectonic plates.

 

 

The problem, as I see it, with an article like this — I find it boring, and not uplifting — is that it is overly generalized writing, what I might call genericspeak, amounting to boilerplate written for a certain interest group. The dictionary definition of boilerplate is as follows:

1. standardized text

2. formulaic or hackneyed language

There is nothing new. It is all generalities and the author of the piece is essentially preaching to the choir, i.e., to radical feminists with views identical or very close to her own.

There is no personality on the page. A writer’s voice does not come through, other than an angry, cold one propagating dogma.

The piece is built upon a tissue of generalities.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

management speak

 

 

“A Note From Our New Publisher”

By A. G. Sulzberger

The New York Times

January 1, 2018

 

 

In 1896 my great-great-grandfather left his hometown, Chattanooga, and traveled north to purchase a small, fading newspaper in New York.

The moment was not unlike our own. Technological, economic and social turmoil were upending the traditions of the country. People trying to understand these changes and their implications found themselves confused by polarized politics and by a partisan press more focused on advancing its own interests than on informing the public.

Against this backdrop Adolph Ochs saw the need for a different kind of newspaper, and he committed The New York Times to the then-radical idea that still animates it today. He vowed that The Times would be fiercely independent, dedicated to journalism of the highest integrity and devoted to the public welfare.

His vision for the news report: “to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.”

His vision for the opinion report: “to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.”

This mission feels particularly urgent to me today as I begin my work as publisher of The New York Times. Our society is again being reshaped by political, technological and environmental forces that demand deep scrutiny and careful explanation. More than 120 years after Adolph Ochs’s vision was printed in these pages, the need for independent, courageous, trustworthy journalism is as great as it’s ever been.

This is a period of exciting innovation and growth at The Times. Our report is stronger than ever, thanks to investments in new forms of journalism like interactive graphics, podcasting and digital video and even greater spending in areas like investigative, international and beat reporting. Our audience, once confined to a single city, now stretches around the globe.

This is also, of course, a period of profound challenge for The Times, for the news media more broadly, and for everyone who believes that journalism sustains a healthy society.

There was a reason freedom of speech and freedom of the press were placed first among our essential rights. Our founders understood that the free exchange of ideas and the ability to hold power to account were prerequisites for a successful democracy. But a dangerous confluence of forces is threatening the press’s central role in helping people understand and engage with the world around them.

The business model that long supported the hard and expensive work of original reporting is eroding, forcing news organizations of all shapes and sizes to cut their reporting staffs and scale back their ambitions. Misinformation is rising and trust in the media is declining as technology platforms elevate clickbait, rumor and propaganda over real journalism, and politicians jockey for advantage by inflaming suspicion of the press. Growing polarization is jeopardizing even the foundational assumption of common truths, the stuff that binds a society together.

Like our predecessors at The Times, my colleagues and I will not give in to these forces.

The Times will continue to search for the most important stories of our era with curiosity, courage and empathy — because we believe that improving the world starts with understanding it. The Times will continue to resist polarization and groupthink by giving voice to the breadth of ideas and experiences — because we believe journalism should help people think for themselves. The Times will hold itself to the highest standards of independence, rigor and fairness — because we believe trust is the most precious asset we have. The Times will do all of this without fear or favor [trite] — because we believe truth should be pursued wherever it leads.

These values guided my father and his predecessors as publisher as they steered this company through war, economic crisis, technological upheaval and major societal shifts. These same values sustained them as they stood up to presidents; battled for the rights of a free press in court; and overrode the financial interests of our business in favor of our journalistic principles.

The challenge before me is to ensure The Times safeguards those values while embracing the imperative to adapt to a changing world. I’ve spent most of my career as a newspaper reporter, but I’ve also been a champion of The Times’s digital evolution. I’m protective of our best traditions, and I look to the future with excitement and optimism.

Much will change in the years ahead, and I believe those changes will lead to a report that is richer and more vibrant than anything we could have dreamed up in ink and paper. What won’t change: We will continue to give reporters the resources to dig into a single story for months at a time. We will continue to support reporters in every corner of the world as they bear witness to unfolding events, sometimes at great personal risk. We will continue to infuse our journalism with expertise by having lawyers cover law, doctors cover health and veterans cover war. We will continue to search for the most compelling ways to tell stories, from prose to virtual reality to whatever comes next. We will continue to put the fairness and accuracy of everything we publish above all else — and in the inevitable moments we fall short, we will continue to own up to our mistakes, and we’ll strive to do better.

We believe this is the journalism our world needs and our readers deserve. That has been the guiding vision for The New York Times across five generations and more than 120 years. Today we renew that commitment.

A.G. Sulzberger Publisher

 

 

This is all self-congratulatory boilerplate blah. There is not one original thought or idea, and hardly any information.

The op-ed is too long winded. The entire piece could be boiled down to a sentence or two and not lose anything with respect to content or meaning: e.g.: I pledge that The New York Times will continue its mission of providing readers with the best journalism on the face of the earth.

Such writing might be appropriate as the text of a hortatory address by the principal at an assembly at the beginning of the school year, or for a motivational speech to employees by a CEO. Sulzberger’s op-ed is not worth reading. It is full of platitudes with no substance, just an assurance to readers that the Times has always been great — or, as he sees it, has always adhered to the highest journalistic standards — and will, he pledges, continue to do so. That’s nice, but so what? Is his oration worth a reader’s time?

Such language is often used by leaders in business and academia and, with embellishment, by politicians. There is nothing necessarily wrong with a motivational speech. But, such writing does not belong on the op-ed page.

What if Sulzberger had said, for example?

We are opening up a new bureau in Novosibirsk to cover developments in the Far North from the perspective of global ecology.

We intend to provide more coverage of ethnic minorities worldwide, such as the Rohingya people.

We have given more priority to coverage of women’s sports at the college level.

That would have been informative to Times readers. He should have used the op-ed piece to convey substantive information about what to expect from the Times in the coming months and years under his stewardship. He does not, for the most part, do this.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

jerry-built; too cute

 

 

“The Dancing Queen: Do The Leona”

By Sheryl McCarthy

New York Newsday

April 15, 1992

 

 

In years to come, it will be known as “doing the Leona.”

It will be written up in the lawbooks, and in the privacy of their offices, slick-suited defense attorneys will discuss using it on behalf of their clients. Certain crass members of the press, always quick with the cynical remark, will call it the “red bathrobe” technique — and they’ll use it to refer to any convicted criminal who cries, whines, scrabbles and is willing to do just about anything else to stay out of jail.

We’ve been subjected to this sorry spectacle in recent weeks as Leona Helmsley and her lawyers tried every ploy they could think of to keep Leona from being carried off in in handcuffs today for the crime of bilking the federal government of millions of dollars in taxes. The strategy didn’t work for Leona, who presumably is even now wending her way to a Kentucky prison. But that doesn’t mean that in the future “The Leona” won’t work for other felons.

The basic elements of “The Leona” are these:

1. PROCLAIM YOUR innocence, in spite of voluminous evidence to the contrary. Admit no wrongdoing, or even any mistakes, and express no remorse whatsoever for your behavior.

2 CLAIM YOUR spouse is sick and will die if you’re sent to prison, since you are the only person on Earth who can care for him properly. (Despite the fact that her 83-year-old husband, Harry, is a billionaire and can afford the best possible medical care, according to Leona it is only her presence that can ward off his premature death.)

3. CLAIM YOU are sick and will die if you are sent to prison. After a federal judge turned down her request for a new trial, Leona collapsed outside the courtroom and was rushed to the hospital. Her attorneys have since argued that because she suffers from hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure, the stress of prison life could kill her. Try telling this to the 67,000 other federal prison inmates, many of whom also feel that prison is not conducive to good health.

4. HAVE A public relations firm organize a “Keep Leona Out of Jail” rally. This tawdry event took place about 10 days and reeked of insincerity.

5. APPEAR ON national TV talk shows, claiming you have been railroaded. Leona cried a lot on the “Joan Rivers Show.” And on “20 /”20” in an interview with Barbara Walters, the queen with the fabulous ballgowns was interviewed in a long red bathrobe — her version of sackcloth and ashes, and clear proof that she was emotionally overwrought. On the same show, she claimed her only friends in the world, besides old Harry, are her black maid and the security man at her Connecticut estate.

6. OFFER TO perform community service in lieu of prison time, a ploy overused by white-collar convicts who believe prisons are for the lower classes.

7. CLAIM TO be a member of a reviled minority group. Leona’s attorneys argued that she would face hostility and abuse by other prison inmates because she is “a widely reviled, vastly wealthy New York Jew.” Try this argument on the convicted drug lords, gang members, mob chieftains, and homosexuals who also expect to encounter some “hostility” from other inmates.

8. ARGUE THAT you can’t go to jail until after your next religious holiday. Leona’s attorneys argued that she should at least be allowed to celebrate Passover with the aging Harry. I’m not sure when Leona became a devout Jew, but I do know that a lot of prison inmates have foregone a final Christmas, Easter, Ramadan, or Kwanzaa with their families.

9. IF ALL else fails, try to bribe your way out of jail. In a last-ditch bid for freedom yesterday, Leona’s lawyers offered to turn over several Helmsley hotels for use as homeless shelters. This sudden burst of charity came from a woman never particularly known for benevolent gestures, who apparently became aware of the homeless problem only this week.

In the end, none of these tactics worked for Leona Helmsley. Not even the skillful briefs and arguments of Alan Dershowitz — a brilliant defense attorney who in recent years has squandered his abilities to serve the wealthy, the contemptible and the guilty — could sway the courts in her favor.

Nor could this massive public-relations campaign change the public perception that Leona Helmsley is an awful human being with a voice like a foghorn and the morals of a pirate. For years she plundered the poor and the powerless. She abused and intimidated her minions, the low-paid, unskilled hotel workers who desperately needed their jobs to make a living.

She blatantly stiffed the contractors who worked for her and who then got their revenge by turning her in to the authorities. But the IRS was the one entity she could not stiff, and so Leona is going to prison.

Legally, her crime was cheating on taxes. Morally, her crime was in believing her wealth and power set her above the law and exempted her from normal standards of decency. A horror of realization must have set in yesterday when the court rejected her last appeal.

So, on this 15th day of April, tax day, Leona Helmsley goes off to jail. Sources tell me the little people are planning a demonstration today on the steps of the U.S. Court of Appeals downtown. They will gather with their recently completed income-tax returns in their hands and when a sign is given they will lift these forms high above their heads and wave Leona bye-bye.

 

Leona Helmsley, the so-called Queen of Mean, was the wife of Harry Helmsley, a billionaire real estate investor and property developer. She was convicted of federal income tax evasion and other crimes in 1989 and sentenced to 19 months in prison.

The story was front page news in 1989. It is mostly forgotten now, and Sheryl McCarthy’s op-ed piece seems dated. Op-ed pieces are, by necessity, topical, but this one is also superficial:

In years to come, it will be known as “doing the Leona.”

It will be written up in the lawbooks, and in the privacy of their offices, slick-suited defense attorneys will discuss using it on behalf of their clients. Certain crass members of the press, always quick with the cynical remark, will call it the “red bathrobe” technique — and they’ll use it to refer to any convicted criminal who cries, whines, scrabbles and is willing to do just about anything else to stay out of jail.

This assertion seemed clever, supposedly, to the writer. It makes little sense now, because it was built on a very flimsy conjecture — in fact, one that has no substance: that the Leona Helmsley case would set a legal precedent. Of course, the writer knew it wouldn’t, but her piece is jerry-built on the playful assumption that it would.

The rest of the piece is a trashing of an easy target: the reviled, convicted and unpopular Leona Helmsley, who was publicly perceived as a greedy, haughty, arrogant woman getting her comeuppance; “an awful human being with a voice like a foghorn and the morals of a pirate” in the writer’s words.

This is glib, overblown writing.

“So, on this 15th day of April, tax day, Leona Helmsley goes off to jail. Sources tell me the little people are planning a demonstration today on the steps of the U.S. Court of Appeals downtown. They will gather with their recently completed income-tax returns in their hands and when a sign is given they will lift these forms high above their heads and wave Leona bye-bye.”

Did this actually happen? Certainly, it did not the way the writer envisions it.

In principle, there is nothing wrong, or that should be “prohibited,” with trying to be inventive or clever in writing a lead, in trying to make a point (often with irony or sarcasm), or in using or devising scenarios in one’s head or out of thin air (for the purposes of illustration or exemplification) that the reader knows are not literally true. One sees this often in fiction, naturally, but it is also used in essay writing: consider, for example, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” But it takes a clever writer to pull this off and not end up looking plain foolish, whimsical, and as if the piece was conceived in la-la land. This seems especially true of the op-ed page.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

a bad lead that leads nowhere; a faulty premise (and purple prose)

 

 

Dave Anderson

“Richard Is Real Rocket, the Only Rocket”

The New York Times

May 29, 2000

 

Other athletes are known today as the Rocket, notably pitcher Roger Clemens, the tennis legend Rod Laver and receiver Raghib Ismael, but they plagiarized the nickname. To anyone who saw Maurice Richard play hockey, he was not only the original Rocket, but also deserved to be remembered as the real Rocket, the only Rocket.

Just as Babe Ruth defined George Herman Ruth, Rocket defined the Montreal Canadiens’ folk hero who set all the National Hockey League goal-scoring records that Gordy Howe and Wayne Gretzky eventually shattered.

Whenever Richard scored in the hockey cathedral that was the Montreal Forum, hats, programs, galoshes and newspapers were tossed onto the ice in celebration as the public address announcer boomed formally, first in French and then in English, “Goal by Maurice Ree-chard.”

But his coach and former linemate at left wing, Toe Blake, usually referred to him as “Rocket.” So did his teammates.

“I sat beside Rocket in the dressing room for the seven years I played with him,” center Jean Béliveau once said. “He was an inspiration and the idol of my generation. On the team we all knew he was kind of an introvert and not the greatest talker.

“But in his own way, he was a leader and, as players and as a team, we followed him because we were inspired by his desire to win. When we lost, Rocket did not need to say anything to show how hard he accepted defat. You could see it in his eyes.”

Yes, those blazing eyes, which finally closed Saturday when he died at 78 after a two-year struggle with abdominal cancer.

 

This op-ed piece is a eulogy for hockey great Maurice Richard. The central premises are that Richard was a great player beloved by fans and an idol and inspiration for his teammates. Dave Anderson, who was The New York Times’s leading sportswriter when this op-ed piece was published under the “Sports of the Times” heading (Anderson had the prestige of writing the column), should have stuck to these points, but he overdid it with his assertion that there is something special about the nickname Rocket that distinguished Richard, or that anyone could claim distinction based upon a nickname. Such a literary device was used for Anderson’s lead, which gets the piece off to a bad start and makes it fall flat.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

“tough guy” journalism; a barroom rant

 

 

“The Death Penalty Is Queens DA’s Only Option”

By Steve Dunleavy

The York Post

May 30, 2000

 

 

The Queens district attorney, Richard Brown, should right now be shopping for twin beds.

Well, not really beds — gurneys on which you strap humanity’s filth and jab them with the needle of ultimate night.

I don’t know why DA Brown, who screwed up in the first place by not locking up John B. Taylor for 12 years, is wrestling with himself over whether to seek the death penalty.

Rick Lazio, speaking through a stitched lip, sewed up Mr. Brown’s agony when he said the words that certainly will make him the next senator of this Empire State:

“After a fair trial, competent counsel and if Mr. Taylor and [Craig] Godineaux are found guilty, there is no question that the district attorney should seek the death penalty.

“That is what the death penalty was made for. Here we see a senseless slaughter of human beings. Hard-working, never looking for a handout, not being rich, just working. A senseless slaughter.

“If they are convicted, after due process of law, there is no question about what the punishment should be.”

Rick Lazio [executive assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, New York] got a lot of votes yesterday from my friends. Yeah, they’re beer-drinking cops and firemen. And yeah, they’re the guys who put their lives on the line every day to make sure I wake up after I go to sleep.

Taylor was on five years’ probation when he committed three armed robberies and Judge Pauline Mullings gave him an incredibly low bail of $3,500.

The New York state court system accuses District Attorney Brown of screwing up because he did not indict the little punk called Taylor. Who cares now who was wrong?

You could tell it to the Marines, but don’t tell it to the friends and family of those who died in the Wendy’s slaughterhouse.

The liberals, who are against the death penalty, say lock them up forever, away from society.

Well, this state under Gov. Hugh Carey, who was more interested in dyeing his hair than a peace officer dying, should have learned its lesson on May 15, 1981 at Greenhaven prison.

Lemuel Smith, a total worm given life for three murders, was locked away in Greenhaven for life … No threat, according to the liberals, to society.

Apparently, Donna Payant did not count as part of society. She was just a correction officer.

And that gave· triple murderer Lemuel Smith the right to rape and murder Donna Payant and trash her body in a prison Dumpster. So much for locking someone away to protect society.

In the case of the lice John B. Taylor and Craig Godineaux, they have told cops what they did.

Yes, I’m sure they’ll bring in psychiatrists for their defense. I will never forget May 28, 1998 when Dr. Sanford Drob, chief of psychological assessment at Bellevue Hospital, gave evidence on behalf of triple murderer Darrel Harris.

He told the court that Harris should not be executed because he couldn’t draw a bicycle.

Harris, of course, could draw a gun, and when he ran out of bullets, he slashed Evelyn Davis to death with a knife as she said: “Please let me out of here. I have five babies.”

Don’t ask me why Dr. Drob — read that as dope — came up with the conclusion that not being able to draw a bicycle had anything to do with Darrel Harris getting a tiny needle in the arm.

Despite the best efforts of Dr. Drob, Darrel Harris became the first killer sentenced to die under the state’s new capital punishment law. So District Attorney Brown has no real problem.

All he has to do is look at the files of this newspaper, listen to Rick Lazio and listen to common sense. Lifetime in jail does not guarantee that killers won’t kill. Killers sometimes shank people in jail just to get celebrity status.

Ask me. I told the so-called “Boston strangler” Albert DeSalvo that he would be murdered by Peter Wilson and Patty Devlin in Walpole State Prison, Massachusetts, if he didn’t stop being a big mouth. They did him.

The only thing that stops murderers murdering is to have them removed from the face of the earth. Rick Lazio understands that, thank God. So does New York and I pray that today Richard Brown grasps it all.

 

 

Steve Dunleavy is a tabloid journalist known for his focus on crime and other gut issues which, in his view, call for mob justice.

“gurneys on which you strap humanity’s filth humanity’s filth and jab them with the needle of ultimate night”; “the little punk called Taylor”; “Lemuel Smith, a total worm”; “In the case of the lice John B. Taylor and Craig Godineaux, they have told cops what they did”; “Killers sometimes shank people in jail just to get celebrity status.” “I told the so-called “Boston strangler” Albert DeSalvo that he would be murdered by Peter Wilson and Patty Devlin in Walpole State Prison, Massachusetts, if he didn’t stop being a big mouth. They did him.” “The only thing that stops murderers murdering is to have them removed from the face of the earth.

This is supposedly tough street talk. It actually serves to show Dunleavy’s crudeness, stupidity, and ghoulishness; the utter absence of any reflection on his part; and that he is unqualified to be a journalist.

Note the one sentence paragraphs. This is a hallmark of tough guy, in your face journalism. And, the writing is just plain dumb and crude. It’s as if one wrote an angry note to one’s ex-boyfriend saying: “YOU’RE A COMPLETE JERK. I HATE YOU.”

Supposedly great (and, in my opinion, very overrated) journalists such as Jimmy Breslin (d. 2017) and Pete Hamill often write in the same vein. They are extolled for presenting in plain language the views of the man on the street, the common man. They do not seem to be in the same class as Dunleavy, and they can write half decently. But, they do not write that well — certainly not at a level which deserves admiration — and their views are often simplistic and can lead to serious distortions when it comes to contentious issues.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

One further thought. Re jerry-built op-ed pieces and writing that seems too “cute.” Op-ed writers can certainly use humor and ingenuity to get their points across. No one is saying they can’t or shouldn’t. But, it takes great skill to be funny without seeming jejune. Current and former columnists whom I admire who (in my opinion) have a genius for humor and use it effectively include Russell Baker of The New York Times, Art Buchwald of The Washington Post, and Maureen Dowd of the Times. For fun, I have posted below, as an attachment, two notable op-ed pieces by Baker and Buchwald.

 

 

russell-baker-presidents-big-break

 

 

art-buchwald-le-grande-thanksgiving

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     February 2018

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Addendum:

 

For an example of a Swiftian piece of satire wherein an op-ed writer runs with a seemingly preposterous premise and pulls it off, see:

 

“Why Stormy Daniels isn’t a bigger hurricane”

By Dana Milbank

The Washington Post

February 16, 2018

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-stormy-daniels-isnt-a-bigger-hurricane/2018/02/16/9f7b6ae4-1320-11e8-9065-e55346f6de81_story.html?utm_term=.3acbcd53e840

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

See also my post:

 

“Nuts?”

 

URL

 

about an op-ed piece by New York Times columnist Gall Collins

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

COMMENTS:

 

 

Pete Smith, February 15, 2018

Are you saying that the #MeToo movement has not changed things for the better, or that abused women are just an interest group? Whether the writing in this op-ed is good, her points are very sound.

 
Roger W. Smith, February 15, 2018

Pete — I guess what I would say is that I thought it was a bad and boring piece, regardless of what one may think about the MeToo movement. The focus of the post was intended to be journalism critiqued from the point of view of writing.

 

Pete Smith, February 15, 2018

OK understood but you need to think about posts like this which can be read either as critical of writing (which I now understand was your intent) or kind of a Trumpish “both sides” (or Porter is a good man we shouldn’t look at his ex-wife’s photo) defense of racism or misogyny.

 
Roger W. Smith, February 15, 2018

Pete — how could I have, or did I, fail to make the main topic and thrust of this piece as plain as could be?

 

 

 

 

Where have you gone, George Orwell?

 

 

re

“Defending Samantha Bee isn’t principled. It’s tribalism.”

Op-Ed

By Megan McArdle

The Washington Post

June 2, 2018

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2018/06/02/defending-samantha-bee-isnt-principled-its-tribalism/?utm_term=.f6297e9de421

 

 

This op-ed piece is hard to read. It’s God awful. Terribly written.

And idiotic. The writer is splitting hairs about nothing.

It is very similar to a Washington Post op-ed piece of three weeks ago by a guest columnist, Sandra Beasley, that I complained about in my post
“My freshman comp instructor would be turning in his grave.”

 

https://rogers-rhetoric.com/2018/12/19/my-freshman-comp-instructor-would-be-turning-in-his-grave/

 

That op-ed piece — by a freshman comp instructor, no less — may have been even more poorly written, but at least one could figure out what the writer was trying to say.

 

 
*****************************************************

 

 

Regarding the former piece, i.e., the one by Megan McArdle which is the focus of this blog — Ms. McArdle is a Washington Post columnist — I dare anyone to figure out what she is saying. It’s as if she were asking her readers to consider, through convoluted reasoning which it is tortuous to try to follow, and to answer the question: how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?

Perhaps it’s okay to use the c______ word for Ivanka Trump. After all, can you imagine, she had the nerve to post a photo of herself proudly holding her baby??? But, no, it’s NOT okay, because that would be anti-women, but then again, her father is Donald Trump, so maybe it IS okay.

… In-groups using words to each other isn’t the same as out-groups using those same words. Trump is the president of the United States, which carries a higher responsibility to the nation, and common decency, than hosting a third-rate comedy show.

And if you want to take this opportunity to point out the jaw-slackening hypocrisy of conservatives becoming outraged about this after defending Barr, or Trump … well, just hold on while I find you a comfy chair and some Gatorade.

But after you’ve said all that, what you’re left with is a burning question: So what? Is the behavior of a senile vulgarian with a terminal case of verbal dysentery now the standard to which feminism aspires? That seems rather inadequate. Or have feminists now lost the ability to distinguish between slurs that were reclaimed by the oppressed as terms of affection and one that is hurled as a vile insult into millions of American homes?

Counterfactuals are usually tricky, of course. But I have utter confidence in this one: The answer that feminists would give in that case would be “never.” And if a network had aired such a remark, those same people would be rightfully raising holy hell about it. They would not be looking around to see whether someone, somewhere, had sometime in the recent past made a remark that was even worse.

This is gobbledygook.

 

 
*****************************************************

 

 

I have a problem with splitting hairs while trying to justify the use of vile insults against one individual or group and, perhaps, excuse it when the target is a different group, depending upon which group is more in “favor” and which group tends to be reviled by the guardians of public virtue. (I guess Ms. McArdle does too, but it is difficult to ascertain what she does think, since she makes the issues the opposite of clear.) And, I cannot understand why anyone is entitled to call Ivanka Trump a cunt (I am not afraid to use the word, since that was the word political commentator Samantha Bee used) for holding a baby in her arms as, presumably, a proud mother.

Don’t get me wrong. I am horrified by actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that separate children from their parents, and I am absolutely against President Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Not sort of. Completely. I regard them as an outrage, an affront to humanity and common decency, and a stain on our nation that will be remembered as such in years to come just as slavery is now.

But President Trump’s daughter holding her baby? C’mon.

 

 
*****************************************************

 

 

There’s another problem that I see with such op-eds, a fundamental one when it comes to journalism and writing per se. The sophistry comes from the writer not laying out the facts clearly and presenting a coherent view, but instead speaking (writing, that is) sort of in code to a particular audience, which she assumes will be able to decode the piece and, from it, extract key talking points supporting whatever position has been ordained. Reason is a tool in the writer’s armamentarium. One that can be used effectively or not effectively. That when it is not used well can have the effect of too much of a good thing. That can produce a jerry-built piece of prose that would be tottering on its foundations, if it had a foundation.

This is a think piece. A nutty one. It is incumbent upon a writer to first establish a substratum of fact, to orient the reader, to acquaint the reader with the issues, and to help the reader get his or her bearings, so to speak, before engaging in Jesuitical reasoning.

George Orwell comes to mind. He went about his writing, as any true writer does, like a workman in overalls, so to speak, at his typewriter. Trying to make his points as clearly and cogently as he could. Backing them up, mostly, with reasoned argument, not statistics or data, or quotations from someone else. At all times, he strove to be clear, and even when he was at his most opinionated, arguing a point strenuously, there was absolutely no equivocation (or duplicity). And, no sophistry. You could not accuse him of that. One can and should accuse Ms. McCardle of the latter, of errors of commission when it comes to writing an opinion piece that is likely to confuse rather than enlighten most readers.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2018

 

 

*****************************************************\

 

 

Addendum:

 

To be fair — or at least to try to be — it appears that Ms. McCardle is saying the left shouldn’t use slurs against the right. But, it’s awfully hard to extract her key points from the fog of her obfuscatory prose. Her concluding paragraph reads:

So feminists, and the left more broadly, now have a chance to prove that they really have learned a lesson from the Bill Clinton debacle. They have a chance to stand as forthrightly and rightly against an offense committed by one of their own as they do against attacks on them. Or they can slink away, muttering about Trump and the patriarchy, and wait for the next generation of feminists to get old enough, and mad enough, to repair the damage they’ve done.

It shouldn’t be so hard for the reader of an op-ed piece to figure out what is being said, which is the case here.