Sunday, September 29, 2019

#272 / Quibble

President Richard M. Nixon
President Donald J. Trump may or may not be impeached by the House of Representatives. Even more problematic is the question whether the president would ever be convicted in the Senate, if the House were, in fact, to impeach him. The future is uncertain, but there isn't any doubt that a very serious impeachment inquiry is now proceeding. Because that is true, there has been, quite naturally, intense speculation about the identity of the unnamed whistleblower who revealed facts about President Trump's contacts with the President of the Ukraine, made both directly and through intermediaries, which are potentially grounds for impeachment. The whistleblower complaint is, without doubt, what has ignited the current investigation by the House. 

On September 26, 2019, The Washington Post ran an article that made the importance of the whistleblower's actions explicit, saying that the unknown whistleblower "painstakingly gathered material and almost single-handedly set impeachment in motion." Given that the whistleblower's complaint is what turned the possibility of an impeachment from a Democratic fever dream into a pending, serious reality, the identity of the whistleblower, of course, is of very great interest. 

In another article, dated September 27, 2019, The Washington Post tried to provide a little historical perspective, discussing the proposed impeachment of President Nixon, in 1974, and reminding us all of the intense speculation about the identity of "Deep Throat," the unnaamed source who provided the information that fueled the impeachment proceedings contemplated against that president. 

I commend that article to you. It documents Nora Ephron's fruitless efforts to let the world know the identity of "Deep Throat," long before "Deep Throat" revealed it himself, in 2005. As The Post notes, with respect to the whistleblower who has sparked the current impeachment inquiry, "no one expects his anonymity to last as long as Deep Throat’s did."

So, click on the links to read a couple of interesting articles, which may or may not be available to you, as you confront the paywall erected by The Washington Post. I do, however, want to register a quibble. 

Ever since I began teaching courses at UCSC, in which grading student papers is part of the job, I have become supersensitive to bad grammar and similar writing errors. I think that The Washington Post should be an example, rather than providing an object lesson in bad writing. Yet.... Here are a couple of key sentences from The Post's article about the identity of the whistleblower:

Richard Nixon became the only president in American history to resign in 1974. It wasn’t until 2005 that W. Mark Felt, the associate director of the FBI during Watergate, revealed he was the one who provided crucial information to Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein during their investigation into the Watergate break-in and coverup.

The first sentence above, "Richard Nixon became the only president in American history to resign in 1974," is simply bad writing. Since we only have one president at a time, it is obvious that when President Nixon resigned, in 1974, he was the only president in history to resign in that year. We get the point, of course, but this sentence was badly expressed. 

I am somewhat sorry to quibble about bad writing, as we confront such a serious subject. But maybe not really that much! We all ought to be trying to write well, and we should be looking to those who provide us with the news, professionally, to serve as good examples. The New York Times, incidentally, has gone out of its way to complement the whistleblower for his good writing! Good writing counts, even for whistleblowers. In this case, I am sorry to say, I think The Washington Post has failed us.

I'll speak to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, perhaps, on some other occasion!

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