September 16, 2006

Great Writing For Our Times

Hatched by Dafydd

On Friday, the New York Times carried this incisive piece on the remarks of Pope Benedict, which all lament. While most readers only marvel at the completed newspaper product, comparing it favorably to the writings of Saroyan and Ionesco, not to mention the fine linework of Mondrian, sometimes it's educational to glance "behind the greatness," as it were, and see how such remarkable literary sketches and essays get that way.

Ordinarily, such excursions are off our diets. We rarely have access to the original draft submitted to the 36-person editorial board, nor to the voluminous comments they offer to the writer to guide him in his professional development. After (if!) the story is printed in an edition of the Times, all of this early paperwork is normally sent to the Vault in Bakersfield, California for permanent archive.

(A codicil to the will left by Henry Jarvis Raymond, founder and first editor of the newspaper and the inventer of bathing, also obligates the Times to send a mimeographed copy of each marked-up manuscript to a very puzzled Henry Kissinger, who seems still to be unaware that he is the only surviving heir of Mr. Raymond's beloved housekeeper, Frenzy. Make of that what you will.)

But clandestine sources within the Times, who spoke only on condition of anonymity and will be named only upon written request, have furnished us with the original, unedited version of the Times story, including all the bits that the editors excised for space purposes. (Actually, only editor Stoland Nebbish III and night janitor Felicia Elicia Gilhoolie "Goldie" Horsepapper made the "on request" offer; our third source, Times subaltern Wanda Bar of East Orange, New Jersey, insisted her identity remain absolutely classified, and we shall honor her request).

Merely for purposes of seeing how a great newspaper finds places to cut a story that comes in too long, here are the original versions of those paragraphs that were substantially edited. (We do not show those paragraphs edited only to bring them more or less into line with the English language. Note to writer Ian Fisher: (a) you should feel darned lucky you have editors, and (b) "antichrist" is not a verb.)

You may compare these original paragraphs to the published versions at your leisure. I prefer to spend my leisure time raising yak.

In Britain, source of many recent suicide bombers, Gaza, home of the infitada and Hamas, Iraq, which allows followers of Iranian accolyte Muqtada "Cuddles" al-Sadr in the cabinet, Syria, which funnels arms to Hezbollah, and Indonesia, which has never punished al-Qaeda affilliate Jemaah Islamiya more seriously than by pinching their tea things, Muslim leaders registered their protest.

Note how short this sentence becomes after removing these unnecessary adjectival phrases. Good writing must be concise.

The Parliament in Pakistan, which just released 2,500 Taliban fighters from prison to return to their units in Afghanistan, passed a resolution against the pope’s statements, and the government later summoned the Vatican envoy to express official displeasure by throwing rubber bands at his face, pointing to the Pakistani flag, and shouting incomprehensibly in Pashtun.

Once again, the parenthetical phrase adds little to the story, beyond turning New Yorkers against the nation of Pakistan... which could be construed as violating the Times' longstanding policy against hate speech towards any racial, sexual, ethnic, religious, philosophical, or hobby-based group, and also the policy favoring Democrats. The last subordinate clause is just a waste of ink, and they don't have "rubber bands" in Pakistan anyway. Whoever told the writer this bit of "local color" probably also supplies photographs to Reuters. Think and think again before attacking the keyboard!

(Before we go any further, I must convey this note which the chief copy-editor penciled in the margin of page 2: "whiel we appreciatew your attempt to 'bring some life to the old graylady,' as you put it, we have told you before time and Again that the TIMES DOes not use any colour ink but black. For stories. And we would like to know where you got the colored typewriter ribben, as we thot. we had put them all away." Perhaps I should have mentioned earlier that the blue type was in the original as submitted.)

And emotion spilled over in Islamist Turkey, where Benedict has scheduled a visit in November, as a top official in the Islamic-rooted ruling party said that the pope is “going down in history in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini.” In 2003, acting to aid Moslem mass murderer and anti-Semite Saddam Hussein, Turkey reversed its committment at the last second and blocked American troops from invading Iraq from the north, thus lengthening the war and causing unnecessary American casualties.

Come, come. Here the writer is just being mean. The Iraq war has nothing to do with the offensiveness, or not, of the pope's remarks. The pope is not a rhinoceros.

Reaction to the pope’s remarks — in which he quoted a description of Islam in the 14th century as “evil and inhuman” — unlike today, when the religion of peace has learned to restrict its slaughter to infidels (including Moslems of a different sect than one's own), blowing up rival mosques, practicing slavery, killing one's own daughter because some busybody in the village said he saw her perusing a Max Factor catalog, and attempting to conquer the entire world through terrorism and by opening falafel stands in Paris and on the Ginza — has presented Benedict with the first full-blown crisis of his year-and-a-half papacy.

The writer should have known that the Times does not allow an M-dash parenthetical comment within another M-dash parenthetical comment. This far and no farther. It's common sense.

Many Muslims are also comparing his comments with the unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad which stoked deep Muslim anger earlier this year. On an entirely unrelated note, eight new judges have been added to conduct a preliminary review of the more than 80,000 entries in the Iranian-sponsored "Holocaust cartoon" competition; also, a fifth category of prize has been added, the Sash Verdant, for the most moving depiction of Jewish persons with porcine features.

1. If the note is "entirely unrelated," why did the writer relate it? 2. Some readers of the Times in Brooklyn and Miami might be made uncomfortable by the reference to pork, which is of course forbidden, or "traif," and to the inappropriate use of the offensive term "Jewish persons" for persons of Hebraic ancestry; and some of our Moslem readers might be made uncomfortable by the reminder that persons of Hebraic ancestry still exist. For these reasons, this sentence was best expunged.

But unlike the cartoons crisis, the reaction has been verbal rather than violent. In Gaza, a grenade was thrown today at one of the gates of the Roman Orthodox church, though no one claimed responsibility and it was unclear if the incident was related to the pope’s statements.

The Times understood the writer's attempt at gentle irony here; but it was too heavy handed, and they were forced to remove it. The New York Times has no place on its august pages (or September) for slapstick or farce; subtlety should be the writer's watchword.

Alas, through a printer's error (I think he was drunk following hijinks with the fire extinguisher), the excised passage was accidentally printed. A correction forthcomes on Monday.

“I am convinced the pope did not mean to assume a position against Islam,” a leading German cardinal, Walter Kasper, told the Italian daily newspaper, La Repubblica. "The Church bureaucracy is no longer so exclusionary as to insist upon itself as the only true religion. We now accept that all religions are equally valid, including Wicca and Scientology; we are a tolerant faith these days." Glancing over his shoulder, Cardinal Kasper continued. "In fact, His Holiness has often expressed a desire to convert to Islam himself, if only it didn't involve so much praying."

The editors expressed some doubts as to the provenance of the excised remarks, as the writer claimed his tape recorder "ran out of tape" and only caught the first part. Since the recorder was actually digital, and had recently been given fresh batteries and a wax and lube, the Times editors were dubious.

Benedict, a respected theologian, is said to write many speeches, limericks, and sea chanties himself, and some commentators in the Italian press speculated that the Vatican would be forced into a more stringent review of his statements in the future, beginning with fines for venial offenses. 250,000 to 380,700 Lira was recommended for the use of divisive language about Jesus, the wearing of overtly sectarian jewelry (id est, an ostentatious cross or Vatican-flag earrings) when meeting with Moslems, and of course for wardrobe malfunctions. Mortal offenses — exempli gratia, noting the irony between what offends Moslems if one says it contrasted with what fails to offend them when fellow Moslems do it — may lead to a harsh penance of ave Marias, paternosters, and press-ups.

Besides the main offense -- the Times considers it inappropriate to resort to Latin phrases in a story about the pope -- there is the obvious threat of the overly detailed description of dangerous projects: children may attempt to imitate what they see, doing themselves an injury.

The rest of the writer's copy was allowed to proceed unedited, owing to the spread of the print-room hijinks (notably, the "out of ink" fountain-pen wheeze) to the editors' suite. A copy-editor swallowed some ink and had to be resuscitated. Then a spirited game of Pin-the-Führer-Mustache-On-the-President broke out in the break room, and all work was adjourned for the day. The Friday New York Times did not come out until three o'clock Saturday afternoon.

Allow to cool before opening.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 16, 2006, at the time of 4:56 PM

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Tracked on September 16, 2006 7:11 PM


The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

Does anyone recall the worldwide riots and burning down of Mosques when the Great Buddhas of Afghanistan were destroyed?

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 16, 2006 9:03 PM

The following hissed in response by: John Sobieski

Good point Dan. I'll have to use that.

What does the 'final' article being anonymous mean? The entire editorial board agrees with the article, or just a majority? Does it even matter? The NYT has become such an absurd parody, at least we console ourselves that it has become joined at the hip with the Democrats. Since the NYT is a slug sliming up the place, I issue my fatwa. Smash this slug!

The above hissed in response by: John Sobieski [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 16, 2006 9:18 PM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

I do not comprehend why the western ideals of a free press and liberal tolerance are now being twisted so bizarrely to countenance endless murder and mayhem to the jihadists by the large media companies, while bringing down the rhetorical house on the Pope, who's guilty merely of stating the obvious and doing so in a peaceable, even avuncular way.

What motivation do Reuters and their fellow travelers (the AP, the NYT and the BBC) have for propagandizing on behalf of the jihadists? It's bizarre.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 17, 2006 1:13 PM

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