Monday, January 09, 2006

NYT Public Windbaggery; Kinsley's Mauling Commas; Golberg's Food-fight Rhetoric

Behind the Eavesdropping Story, a Loud Silence Top of Form

Mr. Calame shows brave in confronting NYT management failure to publish the Bush eavesdropping story it sat on for so long. My analysis says that the stupidity of Mr. Sulzberger and the timidity of Mr. Keller explain the delay. Two men who will let a little brown wren like Judy Miller seduce and stonewall them are not the green-eyeshade palladins to push a crusading press agenda. Mr. Calame does less than brave in his treatment of language, alas.

Mr. Keller asserted in the shorter of his two statements that the article wasn't timed to the forthcoming book, and that "its origins and publication are completely independent of Jim's book."

The comma after “book” splits compound adjectival dependent clauses.

The publication of Mr. Risen's book, with its discussion of the eavesdropping operation, was scheduled for mid-January - but has now been moved up to Tuesday.

The “with” prepositional phrase is restrictive and gets no commas. The reason for the lone dash after “January presents punctuation mystery.

Passive verbs are lethal to rhetorical force and conduce to wordiness. Edit: “Publication schedule of Risen’s book with eavesdropping discussion moved from mid-January to Tuesday.” 13 versus 26 words

So it seems to me the paper was quite aware that it faced the possibility of being scooped by its own reporter's book in about four weeks.

Edit: “The paper knew its own reporter’s book would scoop it in four weeks.” 27 versus 14 words

Risen followed up the first blockbuster revelation of White House law breaking in terms of spying on American citizens with a story that received less attention, posted on January 1.

No comma before restrictive past participial phrase “posted…”: it modifies “a story,” general noun.

Written with Eric Lichtblau in the NYT, it revealed that the current Attorney General (and current Bush family consigliere), Alberto Gonzales, and Andrew Card were rebuffed by the acting Attorney General, James Comey, when Ashcroft was having gallbladder surgery.

I believe “consigliore” is the singular.

This sentence limps along to prolixity. Edit: “Co-authors NYT Eric Lichtblau and Risen reveal that during Ashcroft’s gallbladder surgery acting attorney James Comey rebuffed Andrew Card and current Bush family consigliere Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.” 39 versus 28 words.

In short, "State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration" is a book that blows the cover on the failed war on terror and is full of whistle-blowers revealing how the Bush Administration has engaged in torture, bungled intelligence operations, and lied about WMDs in Iraq.

Ø Whistle-blowers’ revealing: possessive before the gerund
Ø “Lied” should be “lies” for parallelism.

Edit: “State of War…” blows the cover on the Bush Administration’s failed war on terror and whistle-blower revelations about torture, bungled intelligence, and WMD lies.” 51 versus 24 words

It's a testament to how far the NYT has sunk that it was forced to pop a story about criminal behavior in the White House because a book by one of its own reporters was going to beat it to the punch.

“It” constructions are foggy, weak, and wordy. Mr. Public has two confusing “it’s” in this windy sentence.

Edit: “That the NYT pops White-House-criminal-behavior story to fend off NYT reporters’ beating it to the punch testifies to how far the NYT has sunk.” 42 versus 24 words

..the book is punctuated with a wealth of previously unreported tidbits about covert meetings, aborted CIA operations and Oval Office outbursts.

Passive verb and cliché “a wealth of” cry out for dumping.

Edit: “Unreported covert-meeting tidbits, aborted CIA operations, and Oval Office outbursts punctuate the book.” 21 versus 13 words

Grammar-checker analysis: 55 percent passive; 40 words per sentence; Flesch reading ease 39.2

One doesn’t know why newspapers evade grammar checkers to target reading ease. Anything under 50 on Flesch flags poor readability. Newspapers eschew yeasty diction and polysyllabic words for fear of inhospitable reader reaction and yet write sentences so long that they put a glaze on readers’ eyes. This fault belongs not to Le Public alone: it characterizes the paper’s product.

Michael Kinsely:

Mr. Kinsley is a liberal in politics and a free spirit in commas. He puts them where they shouldn’t be and omits them where they should be. For the last three- or four-hundred years, commas waned as we moved from the loose style—lots of commas---to the closed style---few commas. Mr. Kinsley goes both with and against this tide:

And so, at last, there are two piles of paper: a short one of stuff to read, and a tall one of stuff to throw away.

The comma after “read” splits a compound predicate nominative.

Some developed good Web sites and some didn't, but most stopped thinking of the Web as an imminent danger.

A comma follows “sites”: compound sentence. Period goes after “didn’t.” Three independent clauses in a sentence are one too many. Mr. Kinsley might argue for poetic caprice were he not to have split a compound predicate nominative in a previous sentence and blew his status as comma adept.

Today, I open the front door and if the paper isn't within about 10 feet I retreat to my computer and read it online.

Here Mr. Kinsley scorns commas altogether. Were he comma good soldier, he would put one after “door” for compound sentence and one after “feet” for introductory adverbial clause.

Without these costs, even zero revenue from customers would be a good deal for newspapers, if advertisers go along.

The trailing adverbial clause is usually restrictive in the end position and gets no comma. Mr. Kinsley’s is. If he wants commas with that end adverbial clause, he should move it to the beginning or middle of the sentence and disturb syntax.


Mr. Goldberg affects food-fight frat-house rhetoric, but his sentiments show through as template Republican larval Luddite. The rhetorical scam of being a wild-and- crazy-guy liberal doesn’t work.

Jeffrey Golberg

Mohammed himself opened a clay urn of whup-ass on tribes outside Mecca during Ramadan, in 624 AD.

The comma cuts off a restrictive prepositional phrase. Mohammed’s opening the urn was in 624, not 625. “Whup-ass” is frat-house University of Kansa epithet.

Anwar Sadat of Egypt launched the Yom Kippur war on Israel during Ramadan, with little respect to his own religion and even less for Israel's.

The comma is redundant. Sadat launched the war with little respect, not with great respect.

…instead of against terrorists, as we keep insisting.

As we keep insisting” is restrictive, so a comma shouldn’t cut it off: We keep insisting, not we keep minimizing.

Which is why I think it would be really insensitive to murder the Pope.

This is a fragment: a subordinate clause masquerading as a sentence. A fragment constitutes grammar felony. Mr. Goldberg’s writing is not good enough to make the claim that this fragment be artful fillip. Only writers who have mastered punctuation may evade writing rules. Picasso showed he could draw perfectly anatomical nudes before he made them squares and triangles.

Now, I'm not saying I'd like to kill the Holy Father. I can honestly say I love this Pope and I really, really like the Catholic Church.

Mr. Goldberg italicizes for emphasis in comic-book style. He uses “really” more than a Valley Girl, ignoring or not knowing Strunk & White’s precept to avoid redundant modifiers.

But if you're offended simply by glibness about murdering John Paul II alone, imagine how angry you'd be about someone who really wanted to do it.

The fellow is “really” addict.

When the Philippines's equivalent of the FBI investigated, they uncovered a plot to blow up 11 U.S. Airliners and destroy CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

Pronoun-antecedent error: the FBI is an “it.”

And, they discovered that al Qaeda operatives intended to murder the Pope when he visited Manila.

“They” should be “it” or perhaps “its agents.”

They found street maps delineating the path of the Pope's entourage, and clothing matching that of papal aides.

The redundant comma splits a compound participial phrase modifying “maps.”

Okay, actually they tortured the stuffing out of the guy (but he really only gave it up when they threatened to extradite him to Israel, heh, heh).

“Actually” is redundant Valley-girl adverb. “The stuffing,” “gave it up,” and “heh, heh” are sophomoric diction. Grown men don’t use “heh, heh.” Pubescent boys have a franchise on it.

Putting aside the unfriendliness required to blow up the airplanes and the CIA, killing the Pope is a really bad thing to do.

Master Jeffrey is “really” devotee. He appears master of no other intensifier. He also appears to relish blowing up the Pope. One wishes he relished reviewing his grammar primer.


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