Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Editor and Publisher Strikes Out

The E&P specimen below features template press errors from journalsim's gatekeeper: E&P. The writer puts commas where they shouldn’t be and puts no commas where they should be. He indulges in proliferating passive verbs that exacerbate wordiness.

The comma errors are not sophisticated. They violate the easiest of the six comma rules: Put a comma between two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, not between two words, two phrases, or two subordinate clauses.

Sometimes a press adventurer will bump up the error to pronoun-case misfires. Hardball's Chris Matthews says with self-satisfied smirk at his display of erudition “between you and I” or, on nights when he wants to showcase his superlative grasp of language, “between he and I.” These blunders corrupt the children and frighten the horses.

If you write the offender, he or she does not answer but maintains surly silence.Maureen Dowd is sole grateful recipient of grammar correction, probably because Catholic sisters instilled in her respect for authority.

Once in a while a press member commits the uptown error of failing to use the possessive before a gerund. The New York Times’s style manual provides possessive-before-gerund rule, but nobody follows it.

Galloping passive verbs in most press prose add to wordiness and vitiate force.

We should show professional writers no mercy on their basic writing errors. Nor should we tolerate their using two words when one will do. The press is supposed to save newsprint and to strive for succinct clarity. We must complain when its members don’t.

More Questions Raised About Delay in Reporting Cheney Misfire
By Greg Mitchell

E&P has learned that the official confirmation of the shooting came about only after a local reporter in Corpus Christi, Texas, received a tip from the owner of the property where the shooting occurred and called Vice President Cheney's office for confirmation. 1 sentence: 42 words

A comma goes after “property.” The “where” clause acts adjective modifying “property.”

A 42-word sentence needs shrinking.

Edit: “EP learned the property owner informed a local Corpus Christi reporter of the shooting. The reporter called Vice President Cheney’s office for confirmation." 2 sentences: 23 words

The confirmation was made but it is not known for certain that Cheney's office, the White House, or anyone else intended to announce the shooting if the reporter, Jaime Powell of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, had not received word from the ranch owner. One sentence: 43 words

A comma follows “made”: compound sentence. “Jaime Powell” is a restrictive appositive and gets no comma after “reporter.” “Of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times” is a non-restrictive adjectival prepositional phrase modifying “Jaime Powell”: a comma goes after “Powell.” Three passive verbs mar the sentence.

Edit: “Cheney’s office confirmed the incident. Unclear was whether the vice preident’s office, the White House, or anyone else intended to admit the shooting had the ranch owner not told Corpus Christi Caller-Times reporter Jaime Powell.” 2 sentences: 31 words

Hospital officials on Monday continued to offer few details on the victim's condition, but said he was "very stable" and that pellets were possibly still being removed.

The comma after “condition” splits a compound verb.

Indeed, others raised questions as well.

Strunk & White condemns stocking-stuffer adverbs. So does Graham Greene. Dump “indeed.”

"There was no immediate reason given as to why the incident wasn't reported until Sunday," The Dallas Morning News observed. 20 words

The Dallas Morning News adds its passive verb to the verbal slush.

Edit: “The Dallas Morning News said nobody provided reason for not reporting the incident until Sunday.” 15 words

The president, who was at the White House over the weekend, was informed about the incident in Texas after it happened Saturday by Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and was updated on Sunday, press secretary Scott McClellan said. 45 words

This sentence muddle with passive verbs makes unclear who updated whom. One guesses McClellan updated the president on Sunday.

“On Saturday, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove informed the president at the White House. Press Secretary Scott McClellan updated the president on Sunday.” 2 sentences: 30 words

Asked by The New York Times why it did not make the news known, Cheney spokeswoman McBride said, "We deferred to the Armstrongs regarding what had taken place at their ranch." 31 words

Edit: “Cheney spokesperson McBride told The New York Times, 'We deferred to the Armstrongs regarding what took place had their ranch.'” 21 words

In an odd disparity, Armstrong told the Houston Chronicle that Whittington, 78, was "bruised more than bloodied" in the incident and "his pride was hurt more than anything else." Yet he was airlifted to a hospital and has spent more than a day in an intensive care unit. 47 words

Edit: “Armstrong told the Houston Chronicle that Wittington, 78, ‘was bruised rather than bloodied’ and that ‘his pride was hurt more than anything else.’ Yet AirX airlifted him to a hospital where he spent more than a day in intensive care.” 40 words

Time magazine on its Web site observed that Cheney is scheduled to join President Bush on Monday afternoon when he takes questions from reporters in the Oval Office, following a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. 38 words

The pronoun "he" could have as antecedent either "Cheney" or "Bush." The flapping participial phrase at the end adds gawky confusion.

Edit: "Time magazine's web site said Cheney joins President Bush Monday in the Oval Office after a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Cheney (Bush?) will answer reporters' questions." 29 words

White House aides can be expected to say that the Vice President did not shoot Whittington, which suggests a bullet, but rather sprayed him with birdshot, a type of ammunition made up of tiny pieces of lead or steel," Time predicted. 41 words

Edit: “Time predicted White House aides will say Vice President Cheney didn’t shoot Whittington but sprayed him with birdshot. The former suggests a bullet; the latter describes pellets of lead or steel.” 2 sentences; 32 words.

On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune's James wrote on the Washington bureau's blog at the newspaper's site, "When a vice president of the U.S. shoots a man under any circumstance, that is extremely relevant information. What might be the excuse to justify not immediately making the incident public? 47 words

A Chicago Tribune blogger can’t resist contributing needless adverb to augment blowsy writing.

Edit: “The Chicago Tribune’s James wrote Sunday in the Washington bureau’s blog that a U.S. vice president’s shooting a man no matter the circumstance is relevant information. He asked, ‘What excuse justifies not making the incident public immediately?’” 2 sentences: 37 words

"The vice president is well-known for preferring to operate in secret....Some secrecy, especially when it comes to the executing the duties of president or vice president, is understandable and expected by Americans. 32 words

Edit: "The vice president prefers operating in secret….Americans understand some secrecy for presidential or vice presidential duties." 17 words

"The suit was settled in 2001, but the details were not disclosed." 10 words

Passive verbs add words always.

Edit: “X settled the suit but did not disclose details.” 9 words


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