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December 07, 2004

Dear New Yorker: You Are "Said To" Be A Better Magazine Than This

The New Yorker article I just mentioned is by Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg is... well, he's lots of things. But in particular, he's someone with a tendency to source his writing to no one nowhere. In that article alone, he managed to give six instances of things "said to" be true.

1. "[The 1983] suicide bombings, in Beirut, of the United States Marine barracks and an apartment building housing a contingent of French peacekeepers... occurred just twenty seconds apart; a third part of the plan... is said to have been jettisoned when the planners learned that the Italians were sleeping in tents."

2. "[Hezbollah] publishes newspapers and magazines and owns a satellite television station that is said to be watched by ten million people a day."

3. "According to both American and Israeli intelligence officials, [Hezbollah] maintains floating "day camps" for terrorist training throughout the Bekaa Valley; many of the camps are said to be just outside Baalbek."

4. "In the past year, Hezbollah has also been stockpiling rockets for potential use against Israel. These rockets... are said to be moved by truck from Syria, through the Bekaa Valley, and then on to Hezbollah forces in South Lebanon."

5. "...according to intelligence officials, [Hezbollah's] operatives, with the help and cover of Iranian diplomats, have been making surveillance tapes of American diplomatic installations in South America, Southeast Asia, and Europe. These tapes, along with maps and other tools, are said to be kept in well-organized clandestine libraries.

6. "The eight members of Hezbollah's ruling council are said to meet in the Dahiya once a week."

If I'd turned this in to my ninth grade English teacher, she would have circled each of these in red and written "unclear, weak -- avoid passive voice." At the end she would have written, "usually the overuse of the passive voice indicates you're covering something up."

I know this is a crazy, utopian dream... but I would like the New Yorker, particularly when it publishes journalism about matters of life and death, to be as rigorous as my ninth grade English teacher.

Posted at December 7, 2004 06:04 AM | TrackBack

I bet your ninth grade English teacher would also have told John Lahr, "reviewing the play and summarizing the plot are not the same thing." And she probably would have told Anthony Lane that just because he doesn't like the aggressively whimsical style of Edwardian children's literature doesn't mean nobody does, and that dismissing Barrie's novel "Peter Pan" as "unreadable" doesn't exactly reflect well on him as a critic. And I bet she would have gone through the magazine with a red pen excising all unnecessary commas and hyphens.

Hm. Do you think she might consider sending a resume to David Remnick?

Posted by: inkywretch at December 7, 2004 09:10 AM

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Posted by: Mike at December 7, 2004 12:43 PM

Hey you forgot -- ecology endometriosis ectopic eschatology epidural est entrails and expecially erogenous asphodels.

Good news, you will soon have more clicks from Google. A story of mine about my mother-in-law, Evelyn, dying of cancer recently got a hit from someone searching "firm round butt evelyn." We will take over the world, one profanity at a time.

Posted by: boz at December 7, 2004 12:55 PM