Wednesday, January 16, 2008

[sigh] ...and it was written by a "journalist"

Wouldn't you think that a Serious Journalist would be more careful about email composition, especially considering how easily one's emails can appear in places where one least expects to find them... such as here. The following example simply cries out for a bit of editing (at a minimum), and, if I'm honest, a bit of embellishment, as well.

While the rest of the peasants continue to go to town on Mr. King's so-called credentials as a journalist, his sense of ethics (or lack thereof), the pride that should be inherent in anyone choosing to call himself or herself a journalist, not to mention the the hypocrisy of our media's superficial attacks on serious presidential candidates, I thought we might have some more narrowly-focused fun...

Please! Feel free to chime in with your own suggestions.

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From: King, John C


Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 5:40 PM

Subject: excuse me? [Tone: my limited understanding of the rules of Rhetoric makes me think that starting off immediately with such a sarcastic and defensive tone is probably a mistake.]

I don't read biased uninformed drivel so I'm a little late to the game. [Okay, where are the conjunction and/or the commas?]

But a friend who understands how my business works and knows a little something about my 20 plus years in it sent me the link to your ramblings. [A friend? Really? Perhaps the friend thought there were some things you should know, e.g., how your work is perceived by others, namely your audience. Sometimes it's very difficult for a friend to be that honest, but a true friend will take advantage of an opportune opening when one is provided.]

Since the site suggests you have law training, maybe [perhaps?] you forgot that good lawyers to [sic] a little research before they spit out words. ["Law training" that usage meant to belittle Greenwald's own professional experience... a tit for tat? And "spit out words" that a synonym for "present an argument?" I've never actually seen a lawyer spit, though they do have a reputation for trying to catch their quarry unaware.]

Did you think to ask me or anyone who works with me whether that was the entire interview? No. [Did the interview conclude with "to be continued?" If not, then one would reasonably conclude it was complete.] (It was not; just a portion used by one of the many CNN programs.) [The phrase following a semi-colon technically should be able to stand as a complete sentence. This one does not, since it lacks a proper verb: "it was just a portion used" or "just a portion was used".]

Did you reach out to ask the purpose of that specific interview? No. [Again, I am not an expert in Rhetoric, but shouldn't the purpose of an interview (that is published in good faith) have been revealed in the actual interview-- as published-- rather than publishing it with the expectation that every reader or skeptical critic will call CNN or Mr. King himself to make inquiries? Shouldn't such interviews be able to stand on their own? Do CNN and Mr. King really have time to deal with so many inquiries?]

Or how it might have fit in with other questions being asked of other candidates that day? No. [See above.]

Or anything that might have put facts or context or fairness into your critique. No. [This "non-question" is a bit trickier, because it is more manipulative, implying that the burden of supplying facts, context and fairness rests even more heavily on the shoulders of the critic, than on the author of the original work. Certainly, the point is debatable, although Mr. King clearly does not think so.]

McCain, for better or worse, is a very accessible candidate. If you did a little research (there he goes with that word again) [Was the intention in that parenthetical phrase to sound Reaganesque? If so, the attempt failed. I don't recall ever hearing Reagan refer to himself in the third person. Further, an interesting critique of Reagan's own rhetorical techniques can be found in Oliver Sachs's book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. Very provocative.] you would find I have had my share of contentious moments with him over the years. [I must be of the older generation now, since I came of age expecting that the journalists would do the research, and that we, the readers, would read the results of their research. I don't recall any suggestions that I should do my own supplemental research, but only that I should keep an open and skeptical mind before coming to a conclusion.]

But because of that accessibility, you don't have to go into every interview asking him about the time he cheated on his sixth grade math test. [Is this the sort of loaded question that today's journalists now believe constitutes being "hard-hitting?" Just curious. More to the point, the initial phrase does not work well with the one it is meant to parallel in the previous paragraph. Another possibility might have been to write "because Sen. McCain is so accessible, [one] does not have to..." The many jumps between between first, second and third person are very disconcerting.]

The [purpose of the] interview was mainly [primarily?] to get a couple of questions to him on [Implies a delivery... perhaps: "ask him a couple of questions about..."] his thoughts on the [proper?] role of government when the economy is teetering on the edge of [a] recession, in conjunction with similar questions being put to several of the other candidates. [We readers (and viewers) would have greatly appreciated being able to find these questions. Were they accidentally misplaced or filed elsewhere? Also, who were the other candidates with whom Sen. McCain was being compared? The sentence is ambiguous, and could refer to any part of the GOP or Democratic fields, or to all of the candidates. Perhaps this information should also have been included in the interview.]

The portion you cited was aired by one of our programs -- so by all means it is fair game for whatever "analysis" you care to apply to it using your right of free speech and your lack of any journalistic standards or fact checking or just plain basic curiosity. [Again, tone, is so important. Why is "analysis" in quotes? Are the quotes intended to impugn Greenwald's analysis with irony? How ironic, considering the vast streams of irony that pour forth from our newspapers, and, even more, from our news broadcasters every day. Further, "fair game" implies an adversarial relationship that is generally missing from most mainstream reporting on figures who are beloved by the press, e.g., Sen. McCain. Finally, although the program was also "fair game," as Mr. King notes, he undercuts that statement by implying a lack of fairness on Greenwald's part by using such phrases as "whatever 'analysis' you care to apply," "lack of any journalistic standards or fact checking or just plain basic curiosity.]

You clearly know very little about journalism. [And, clearly, Mr. King knows very little about Greenwald's areas of expertise, e.g., the many failings of contemporary journalism when reporting on constitutional issues (among others), but then, he has admitted that he does not read such drivel. Still, a bit of "research"-- e.g., reading some of Greenwald's prior posts-- in advance of writing this email, might have been beneficial.] But credibility matters. It is what allows you to cover six presidential campaigns and [still?] be viewed as fair and respectful, while perhaps a little cranky, but Democrats and Republicans alike. [Does "but [by] Democrats and Republicans alike" refer to being "viewed as fair and respectful," or "perhaps a little cranky." The awkward construction leaves the reader wondering.]

When I am writing something that calls someone's credibility into question, I pick up the phone and give them a chance to give their side, or perspective. [And yet, reviewers and critics never make such calls, as a number of Mr. Greenwald's commenters have noted. A distinction has been left floundering: both original reporting and reviewing/critiquing require sufficient background and knowledge, supplemented by research when necessary, but only reporting requires making calls and checking facts with sources, because the original work is still being written. The critique or review is of that finished work, and does not require the permission of, or any rationalizations from, the original author, although the author is certainly free to respond, just as Mr. King has done.]

That way, even on days that I don't consider my best, or anywhere close, I can look myself in the mirror and know I tried to be fair and didn't call into question someone's credibility just for sport, or because I like seeing my name on a website or my face on TV. [Frankly, a little more skepticism would be welcome, not for sport or fame, but because our country faces so many serious challenges, many of which might have been avoided entirely if our current president had faced more skepticism during his first campaign, or even during his second.

In fact, a great many of us -- according to polls, at least 75%, and perhaps as many as 80% -- awake each morning to look in our mirrors and reflect on the many misdirections to which we have been subjected -- by both the Bush administration and an acquiescent press -- and which have, far worse, sorely affected our country's reputation throughout the world.]

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The original post on Greenwald's blog can be found here.


Hannah said...

My main concern, upon reading this post, is that you actually expect the full context of an interview to appear in a TV airing of it. TV news is infamous for not telling the whole story, let alone for providing that story with context or background. If your only news source is television, I would suggest supplemental research, even if that only consists of reading a few pertinent online subscriptions.


Kitt said...

It is unfortunate that Hannah would so completely misunderstand the author's intent of this post. And most unfortunate that Hannah would make such an unwarranted assumption about the author's habits regarding research and what sources the author uses to gain information.

I don't know how Hannah came to those conclusions but I do know for a fact that Karen, the author of the post, is very active in online discussions on a number of online sites.

The purpose of the post, in my view, was to highlight a screaming example of shoddy, irrelevant, misleading journalism. Journalism that is regularly taking place on our most accessible and viewed or read sources in the main stream media. Sources that unfortunately are where the majority of the American public gets their information and misinformation. Karen's post helps to expose how inadequate this one example of main stream media programing was, and expose the 'Star' journalist who was the face of the example.

Also, Hannah, if you had paid closer attention while reading the post you might have noticed that Karen's post is in direct relation to John King's email. An email that was published on Glenn Greenwald's blog at Salon. Aka, an online site offering "a pertinent online subscription" to readers.

Karen M said...

For reasons I won't go into here, I have (temporarily) let my Salon subscription lapse; however, I do read it regularly.

I also subscribe to Harper's and The Nation.

And I often read a number of other online columnists and bloggers, including Dan Froomkin, Digby, Firedoglake, TalkingPointsMemo, and several bloggers at the Huffington Post, among others. And, of course, Glenn Greenwald's blog. When I can, I make a small donation to one or another of them. I have time for all of these because I don't have cable, and don't watch much network news, except on PBS.

The actual point of the post was to examine the care that John King, a public figure in his own mind anyway, puts into his email correspondence. One would expect that someone who makes a living with words, would take more care. And this blog exists because a group of us wanted to talk about language on occasion without derailing Greenwald's blog.

I have a much lower-level job than King, but I do edit all of my emails carefully and make sure that they are grammatically correct as much as possible, because I'm aware that what I send out reflects not just on me, but on my employer. More importantly, I would not push SEND after composing an email while in a rage. A little more circumspection in his email, but less in his interviews would, in my opinion, make King more worthy of respect.

Introvert Girl said...

Silly of us to belabor the point of Hannah's well-intentioned misunderstanding. It's not that any of us are silly enough to expect the mainstream media to provide actual interviews with actual real context, it's that said media in the person of Mr. King outright admits that the purpose of his interview couldn't be understood by watching the cut CNN chose to show.

But the point of this blog is to address issues of grammar and language use. Karen's done an excellent and very entertaining job dissecting Mr. King's appalling email.

My concern is that Mr. King made a flailing pass at sarcasm--even bitter sarcasm--and failed miserably. Does he not understand what "irony" means? I asked Karen yesterday if anyone reads Jonathan Swift anymore. Obviously not--but he could at least read Douglas Adams if he wants a writer who can teach him to sharpen his wit.

If this is the standard CNN holds its journalists up to, can I get a job there? I could use the cash.

NRF said...

On behalf of John King, "OUCH!"