De grammatico

Sorry to outsource blogging completely, but this longish quote from a post by Steve Benen (Political Animal) is worth reading (apropos of George Will's most recent column): 

IN SEARCH OF MEDIA ACCOUNTABILITY…. Over the weekend, George Will's Washington Post column was devoted to his rejection of climate science and global warming. As one might expect, given the topic and direction, Will had several errors of fact and judgment.

Given that Will's piece — which was, by the way, syndicated nationally — carelessly misled readers, Zachary Roth contacted both Will and Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt to see what went wrong here. How could Will make such obvious mistakes? And how did they escape the editor's scrutiny and fact-checking process?

Will's assistant told us that Will might get back to us later in the day to talk about the column. And Hiatt said he was too busy to talk about it just then, but that he'd try to respond to emailed questions. So we emailed him yesterday's post, with several questions about the editing process, then followed up with another email late yesterday afternoon.

But still nothing from either of them, over twenty-four hours after the first contact was made. Nor has the online version of Will's column been updated, even to reflect the fact that the ACRC has utterly disavowed the claim Will attributes to it.

We're hearing that the Post's editing process for opinion pieces is virtually non-existent. Maybe that makes sense in some cases — it certainly seems reasonable to give most columnists a freer hand than straight news reporters get. But it's difficult to know for sure when the Post won't talk about it. And that approach sure didn't serve the paper well here.

I chatted last night with a couple of people I know who've written items for both the Post and the New York Times, and they agreed that the WaPo editors checked for grammar and spelling, but made no meaningful effort to scrutinize the content. The NYT, meanwhile, was far more stringent. Given Will's background and specific claims, this casual disregard is a very bad idea.

I think we surmised that they checked for grammar and spelling too.  Before the first post ever on this site we wrote:

Print editors no doubt scan for grammar. For the most part, despite the occasional infelicitous construction that slips by, they succeed wonderfully at their jobs. Just consider the vast quantity of printed and spoken words produced everyday and the difficulty of writing correctly and clearly in English, and their achievement starts to seem prodigious.

Consider also that these editors and their staffs–the conscientious ones at least–must clean their pages of obvious and less obvious errors of fact. Their expertise in source-checking and the verification of facts, among other things, and their commitment to vigilance and due diligence in their editorial mission are involved in this monumental task of stemming the tide of falsehoods, misrepresentations, and out-right lies which threatens to drown political discourse today.

Unfortunately, this seems to be where editors stop. While run-on sentences, comma splices, split infinitives, and other such grammatical minutiae may rarely make appearances in the best of our nation’s dailies and weeklies, and a small but growing class of press watchdogs help to correct errors of fact (pointing out bias, factual omissions, and distortions), a more perilous corruption lurks under the clean surface of the printed page: specious reasoning.


One thought on “De grammatico”

Comments are closed.