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Whose side are you on?

A posting elsewhere praises this blog, in part, because "politics don’t seem to come into play anywhere, an admirable modus operandi for someone who blossoms from the notoriously-leftist Sun."

Well, a quarter-century ago I blossomed in the notoriously rightist Cincinnati Enquirer. I still recollect vividly the editorial The Enquirer published in the early 1980s about genital herpes. (Remember when people worried about herpes?) It acknowledged that the disease was painful and incurable, as well as a source of embarrassment and even shame to its sufferers. It then concluded (I write from memory), "But if apprehension about contracting herpes should lead people to forgo promiscuous sexual intercourse, then the disease will have served a useful social purpose."

I walked around for a week with "useful social purpose" echoing in my head, muttering to myself, "I work for a newspaper that has endorsed a disease."

In The Sun, some years later, I read a lengthy article saying that a number of medical schools had dropped training in the performance of abortions, a circumstance that alarmed proponents of abortion rights. Running about 1,500 words, the article relegated to a couple of paragraphs, about two-thirds of the way through, an indication that there might be medical professionals who held a principled opposition to the performance of abortions. It was clear, at least to me, that the author’s commitment to abortion rights overrode the responsibility to put the issue in a meaningful context.

Most of what my colleagues on the copy desk and I are concerned with has nothing to do with the left or the right. Misstatements of fact, errors in grammar, slipshod or ignorant usage, slack writing, opaque writing and self-indulgent writing appear in ample measure to occupy our hours on the desk.

And many of the complaints we receive about our purported bias are tendentious complaints from people who simply do not like what they see reported. The Sun is, on any given day, a propaganda organ for a cell of Bolsheviki and a craven apologist for corporate interests, a nest of anti-Semites determined on the destruction of Israel and a dupe of Zionists. We speak for a racist white establishment — we are a racist white establishment — that is in the pocket of the NAACP. We are rabidly anti-Catholic and a puppet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

But the heaviest criticism over the past 15 years has come when we tampered with the crossword puzzles.

Noise of this kind obscures efforts to identify and deal with actual bias. On the copy desk we try, and should try more vigorously, to spot the unexamined assumptions in articles. Given that many journalists today are middle-class, or even upper-middle-class, and college-educated, we ought to be alert to the limits of that perspective and not project it as a universal point of view. We should examine how articles are framed, to make sure, as in that abortion story, the whole context of the situation is represented. The little things, the misspellings, errors of fact, slips in grammar, need attention because they erode our credibility, little by little. But the big issues require attention, too. We’re trying to represent a complex reality to our readers, which shouldn’t be oversimplified.

And we should vow to leave the crossword puzzles alone.

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:35 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Comments

A question for the copy editor:
I recently read an article -- not in The Sun -- about the recent congressional elections. I was confused when I came across the phrase 'freshmen senators.'
Should it not be 'freshMAN senators,' even if we are speaking about senators in plural?

I just stumbled across your blogdom, and really enjoyed reading many of the past posts. I will be a regular reader. One of my many pet peeves is the use of a preposition without a proper object. This post has two instances of that offense. The first instance is in the headline, which is perhaps understandable if free passes are given for artistic license in headlines. But the preposition "on" seems very lonely at the end of the headline. The second case is in the first sentence of the fifth paragraph where the preposition "with" is desparately seeking an object that never appears. A more carefully constructed sentence could have made the point and not violated any rules of grammar. Anyway, I look forward to reading future posts. And please remember to never use a preposition to end a sentence with.

I'm curious to know how Ray Fischer would correct the errors he points out: "On whose side are you?" "Most of that with which my colleagues on the copy desk and I are concerned has nothing to do with the left or the right." Ugh and double-ugh, IMHO.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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