Category Archives: journalism critiqued as such (and as specimens of writing)

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://rogersgleanings.com/2018/05/19/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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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

 

 

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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.

 

why some op-ed pieces bomb; or, should

 

 

 

indigesitble 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.

 

 

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directorspeak

 

“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 — 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 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.

 

 

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jerrybuilt; 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 jerrybuilt 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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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“tough guy” journalism; a barroom rant

 

 

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

By Steve Dunleavy

New 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 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 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-girlfriend 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.

 

 

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One further thought. Re jerrybuilt 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.)

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

 

 

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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

 

 

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

 

 

Russell Baker, ‘President’s Big Break’

 

Art Buchwald, ‘Le Grande Thanksgiving’

 

 

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

 

 

See also my post:

“Nuts?”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/10/07/nuts/

 

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

Nuts?

 

 

 

I could not help but think of my recent post

“After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/09/06/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

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/06/opinion/columbus-day-statues.html

 

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

 

 

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 jerrybuilt. 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.

copyeditors, who needs ‘em (The New York Times, that’s who)

 

 

 

Mr. Donleavy lived in London and on the Isle of Man for most of the 1950s and ’60s, then moved to Ireland in 1969 after it had abolished the income tax for creative artists, including writer [italics added].

 

— “J.P. Donleavy, Acclaimed Author of ‘The Ginger Man,’ Dies at 91,” by Anita Gates, The New York Times, September 13, 2017

 

 

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

 

 

I worked as a proofreader and copyeditor during the 1970’s and 1980’s and made a living at it exclusively for about five years during which I was self employed. I greatly benefited from a professional course I took with a Doubleday editor and from on the job experience. My work improved over time, pretty fast. It had to. One has to be thoroughly knowledgeable and competent, diligent, and meticulous to do such work.

I saved, many times, very good writers from egregious errors. As a writer over the years, I know how essential to any writer copyeditors and proofreaders are. Check out the acknowledgments section of a scholarly book and more often than not you will find the author stating just that.

So why did The New York Times eliminate its stand-alone copy desks?

 

 

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

 

“Editing is vital to The Times. It separates us from the competition. It is one of the reasons readers trust our information. And it elevates our language,” Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet recently stated. (“Dean Baquet Answers Readers’ Questions on Editing in the Newsroom,” The New York Times, July 6, 2017.) He was speaking about the Times’s decision to eliminate its stand-alone copyediting desks and fire dozens of (mostly veteran) copyeditors.

I agree that editing is vital. Also, as a regular Times reader for some 50 years, I have noticed that it has always seemed to be more carefully edited than most daily newspapers, in addition to the fact that the stories are notably polished and well written.

Suddenly, wouldn’t you just know it, despite assurances that quality would not suffer, frequent typos and the like are cropping up in Times articles. This despite Baquet’s assurances that “we will be watching closely to make sure that our stories are still up to the standards our readers expect.” When I read that statement three months ago, his words did not sound reassuring. Who will be watching closely?

 

 

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

 

As noted above, I once took an invaluable copyediting course. The instructor made a point about why attention to detail on the part of editors and copyeditors is essential: Sloppiness in editing and production tends to decrease the reader’s overall confidence in a piece of writing (I am not thinking of fiction) and its accuracy. One starts to wonder, with careless errors here and there, if maybe there are not more serious errors, such as misspelled names, wrong dates, errors of fact, and other mistakes for which one will find the newspaper apologizing in its “Corrections” section. Or that can make the informed reader of a nonfiction book wonder whether he or she can trust its contents. If there are frequent mistakes of the kind a copyeditor should have caught in the published book (such as the time that I found W. E. B. Du Bois’s name being misspelled throughout a book that was devoted to African American culture and writers), one may suspect that it was rushed into print and that one can’t rely on it as a source.

 

 

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

 

There is a noticeable trend away from correctness in written and spoken language. Electronic communication is mostly responsible for this, it seems: the internet, texting, and email. The age of print, which began with Guttenberg almost six centuries ago, may be ending. This would be incredibly unfortunate — devastating, in my opinion.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 13, 2017

“After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

 

 

“For more than a year, members of the Baltimore City Council, like officials in many communities across the nation, had drifted indecisively about the fate of the city’s increasingly controversial Confederate monuments. Then, last weekend, white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., violently resurrected the frightening ghosts of the Civil War.

“That settled the issue in Baltimore: On Monday night, the Council voted unanimously to take down the statues. On Tuesday night, in an unannounced, unceremonious action, four statues were torn from their pedestals as the city slept, with no throng of witnesses or protesters in attendance.

” ‘It’s done,’ Mayor Catherine Pugh told her city on Wednesday morning. She explained, ‘With the climate of this nation, that I think it’s very important that we move quickly and quietly.’

“That is sound advice. The racist rage in Virginia and President Trump’s shamefully sympathetic response have prompted local and state politicians to encourage community peace by weighing the future of Confederate monuments civilly and unapologetically, even if the president has not.”

 

New York Times editorial, August 17, 2017

 

 

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

 

My thoughts.

It wasn’t “sound advice.”

But, then, the New York Times editorial board is distinguished (meant sarcastically) for churning out soporific, boring, tone deaf, and not particularly well written editorials — most of all, boring — that demonstrate almost no original thought and provide no insight.

The editorials proclaim the liberal party line with no thought or consideration of what other viewpoints might possibly be entertained. You can almost see a “thought checker” (think fact checker) going through them line by line to make sure they are doctrinally correct.

Nihil obstat.

They sermonize. Nuanced thought is not in evidence.

Often, it seems to be the case, the editorials get written before they are actually written — that is, the Times policy wonks put their heads together and decide what the ideologically correct position should be. After that, writing a few paragraphs is a breeze; anyone with reasonable competence in writing could do just as well.

 

 

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

 

Regarding this particular editorial.

What about (omg — can I really be saying this! I’ll be called alt-right!) the statues, monuments, colleges, cities even, named after Saint George (Washington) and his companion in stone on Mount Rushmore Thomas Jefferson? Slaveholders both. They were both great men and are iconic figures. They were also (perish the thought!) imperfect, as happens to be true of mankind en masse and taken as individuals: you and I; larger than life figures and the rest of the humanity. Of Saint Augustine and William Jefferson Clinton. Of myself and my next door neighbor. Should memorials to historical figures be destroyed to remove the cloud of racism?

Why not take down statues of Andrew Jackson? Slaveholder, oppressor of Native Americans. Why not GOD? (Removing all public monuments in his honor will involve a massive public works program.) After all, he acted like a tyrant; he was always smiting some group or other in the Old Testament. And, why do Washington and Jefferson get a free pass? All slaveholders are evil, it would appear, but some are more evil than others.

 

 

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

 

Feelings, concern, sympathy for the “great unwashed,” aka “deplorables” (on the part of the Times, that is) for the Common Man? Fuhgeddaboudit. The Common Man has not been venerated since the Great Depression induced writers such as John Steinbeck and composers such as Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson to pen and compose songs of praise. The Times hews to current intellectual fashions. The Common Man is not in fashion any more — in fact, he has become an embarrassment to those who consider themselves enlightened and superior in views and taste — except among Trump supporters.

All the Times Editorial Board cares about is its core audience of readers: what they think, about the consensus of “enlightened” liberal opinion. Ergo, they have nothing new, interesting, or enlightening to say. But, then, they’re policy wonks, not good writers or deep thinkers. I would be willing to bet that Edmund Burke couldn’t get hired, for sure; he wouldn’t have passed an ideological litmus test.

 

 

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

 

Who was it who said that hindsight is 20/20? History should be studied, but it shouldn’t and can’t be scrubbed clean in the name of correcting past wrongs.

 

 

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

 

Perhaps ISIS could be hired as subcontractors to take their sledgehammers to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. After all, they’ve had experience.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  August 17, 2017; updated September 6, 2017

 

 

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

 

Note: The Times editorial reads: “She explained, ‘With the climate of this nation, that I think it’s very important that we move quickly and quietly.’ “ [italics added].

This seems to be a typo. But, then, the Times has fired almost all of its copyeditors. Not a good move. The Executive Editor, in his wisdom, and his underlings apparently decided that they weren’t necessary. As a former proofreader, copyeditor, and freelance reporter, I know how essential they always were and still are.

 

 

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

 

 

addendum:

 

To the Editor:

Re “After Violent Weekend, Calls Beyond Virginia to Remove Civil War Statues” (news article, Aug. 15): Robert E. Lee would have been appalled by anything honoring the Confederacy or his service to it. He worked very hard to bring the country back together and actively opposed all the “the South will rise again” movements.

Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln would be equally horrified by the desecration of memorials to Confederate war dead, as both considered them to be Americans (even if misguided). Grant stopped he dishonoring of Confederate dead after several battles and ordered that they be treated with the same respect as the Union dead.

The South lost, and its sons and daughters have bled and died for the United States in every war since. It’s way past time to move on. We are all Americans, and we need to look at the serious internal problems (economy, infrastructure, jobs) and external problems (North Korea, China, Russia, Venezuela) facing our country.

 

— Chris Daly, Yucaipa, Calif.; letter to the editor, The New York Times, August 17, 2017

 

 

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

 

To the Editor:

Has anyone considered that those engaged in tearing down images of certain icons of the past are following the barbaric examples of the Taliban and ISIS, whose practice it has been to destroy relics of the past that they have found to be offensive to their particular sensibilities? Let’s put a lid on the frenzy.

 

— William M. Green, letter to editor, The New York Times, September 2, 2017

 

 

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

 

addendum:

 

“He’s [said of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio] going to create some kind of star chamber to see who’s politically correct and who’s not,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a historian who edited The Encyclopedia of New York City, echoing other historians who have cautioned against the rush to remove statues and monuments.

“It’s almost like McCarthyism of a reverse sort: Let’s find out who has got something in their closet that they should be ashamed of. I don’t think we need this,” he said.

 

“Ordering Review of Statues Puts de Blasio in Tricky Spot,” The New York Times, August 30, 2017

 

 

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

 

addendum:

 

St. Augustine’s father, Patricius, had slaves. His vineyards in Thagaste in Northern Africa were worked by slaves. As a boy, Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus) had a slave attendant who took him to school.

As a young man, Augustine, a professional (his occupation was rhetorician), and later in his mature years, had, as would any well born Roman of his class, numerous slaves in his household, some of whom would accompany him on his travels when required (to, say, transport things a traveler needed in those days, and perhaps also his manuscripts).

A question. Augustine is merely one example, but can we expect demands for Augustine to be perhaps stripped of his sainthood or lowered in status and reverence due him should it come to be known that he was, in effect, a slaveholder?

The question may seem ludicrous, but I think it can be fairly asked, how far back is one prepared to go in an attempt to cleanse history and, supposedly, to “redress wrongs” by demoting revered figures now standing on virtual pedestals? And, how does one make choices about who is out and who is in (perhaps not entirely “clean,” but for some reason not to be punished with what might be called “unperson” status” in this recasting of history by self appointed revisionists, a polite way of saying historical thought police”)?

 

 

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

 

 

Responses to “After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

 

 

Tom Riggio says:

August 17, 2017

You get no argument from me, Roger. Or the ACLU, which has taken sides with the right of the supporters of keeping the statues, with the idea that the Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom to express one opinions, even if others find them horrific. Of course, the guy who killed the young women is a murderer and should be punished severely for his crime. If both “sides” would abide by this constitutional right, there would be two sides to the question but not violence in the streets. The parents of the dead women sent the right message, refusing to hate the killer of their daughter, though not condoning the act and the ideology behind it. We get this sort of reaction in the case of abortion as well: there are those who criminalize the abortionists and those who criminalize the pro-life people. Same sort of idiocy.

 

 

Roger W. Smith says:

August 17, 2017

Thanks much for taking the time, to comment, Tom.

Of course, my post was focused on the destruction of statues.

You may find relevant my post “is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?”

at

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/04/24/is-it-possible-or-desirable-to-hold-two-divergent-opinions-at-the-same-time/

P.S. I listened carefully to what people who were at the rallies in Charlottesville had to say. I believe them and not Trump. But, I agreed with Trump when he said that we should not go around dismantling statues, and what he said about Washington and Jefferson.

 

 

Carol Hay says:

August 18, 2017

There’s a big difference between Robert E. Lee, who fought to preserve slavery and who fought to tear this country apart, and the founding fathers who created our government. Should statues of Hitler and Nazi monuments be preserved because they are part of history?

 

Roger W. Smith says:

August 18, 2017

Regarding the last sentence of what you said above, Carol, that is a good question which bears thinking more about (which I will). However, I don’t think it simply invalidates what I said in my post: many of my other points and the fact that Washington and Jefferson, slaveholders both, are treated so differently than defenders of slavery such as Robert E. Lee and John C. Calhoun (who wasn’t mentioned in this post).

 

Roger W. Smith says:

August 31, 2017

Carol — I think what I said in my post “is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?”

at

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/04/24/is-it-possible-or-desirable-to-hold-two-divergent-opinions-at-the-same-time/

is relevant here.

You can always find exceptions, egregious cases, but that doesn’t invalidate what I am saying here about the mass hysteria that has become rampant to cleanse history by getting rid of any vestige or taint of attitudes now considered racist or otherwise reprehensible by modern day standards.

There have been times when statues of dictators were being toppled, and I found myself cheering in absentia: say, if a statue of Stalin gets removed in Russia, and I didn’t much care when I saw news footage of a crowd toppling a statue of Saddam Hussein, around which they had wound a rope they pulled it down with.

As Walt Whitman put it: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself.”

Of course, “the revisionists” who want to tear down all sorts of statues and monuments and rename buildings contradict themselves as well: Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder, for some reason seems to get a pass; so do Washington and Jefferson. The argument that Washington and Jefferson were Founding Fathers and were on the right side of most issues (meaning on the right side of history, so they came out smelling like a rose, their sins forgiven) doesn’t wash. They should be held to the same strict standards as the others are, if we are going to enforce rigid political correctness retrospectively.

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

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2017