Saturday, February 05, 2011

Catch me in the Guardian ... while you can!

That man of the world Adrian McKinty alerted me to Noam Chomsky's commentary on Egypt this week on the Guardian's Web site. Whatever one thinks of Chomsky's politics, his prose style leaves much to be desired, and I wrote as much in a comment at the Guardian's site yesterday.

By today, my comment had been replaced by a notice that "This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn't abide by our community standards."

So I hardly expect my reply to last any longer. In case it, too, has been deemed to fall short of the Guardian's community standards by the time you get around to clicking the link at the beginning of this sentence, here it is:
6 February 2011 2:28AM

I have learned much about the Guardian's editorial policy from this debate. One may safely accuse authors and commenters of communism, fascism, anti-semitism, anti-Arabism, anti-Americanism, pro-Americanism, depravity, degeneracy, illiteracy, stupidity, and bad spelling, but dare suggest — not state outwardly, not even imply, but merely
suggest — that a prominent author gets hands-off treatment from editors, and your comment will be removed faster than if you criticized the British Royal Family at Speaker's [sic--author's error] Corner.

Recommend? (2)
***
P.S.
Right on schedule, the Guardian has deleted that comment, too. So it's official: Criticism of the Guardian on the Guardian's Web site is verboten.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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40 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I too have had comments removed from the Guardian whenever they've done travel pieces on Cuba and failed to mention, oh I dont know, the fact that its still a corrupt police state with one set of rules for tourists and another for Cubans.

I have made these comments using reasonable language and without my usual hyperbole, but still they have vanished.

I guess only a certain Marcusian level of criticism is allowed at the Guardian to give the appearance that actual dissent is encouraged and permissable when in fact it isnt.

February 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

But of course this doesnt apply to their fine staff of book reviewers who are unquestionably wise and brilliant.

February 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I actually checked the list to see which of the community standards I might have violated. As nearly as I could tell, the moderator must have got me on one of these.

1. We welcome debate and dissent, but personal attacks (on authors, other users or any individual), persistent trolling and mindless abuse will not be tolerated. The key to maintaining guardian.co.uk as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.

2. We acknowledge criticism of the articles we publish, but will not allow persistent misrepresentation of the Guardian and our journalists to be published on our website. For the sake of robust debate, we will distinguish between constructive, focused argument and smear tactics.

Apparently criticizing an author's prose style constitutes "personal attack," or suggesting that editors relax their standards for prominent authors constitutes "persistent misrepresentation of the Guardian and our journalists," or both, though I don't see how they could call any misrepresentation persistent, since I had only posted the one comment.

February 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Community standard No. 10, by the way, is:

10. The platform is ours, but the conversation belongs to everybody.

February 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

But on the more general point, they should teach that Chomsky piece in journalism/blogging school as a fine example of everything that should be avoided in an op.ed. or a piece of reportage or whatever it was exactly.

February 05, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Maybe it's as simple as The Guardian editors do not want any criticism of their editing or non-editing of articles.

I don't know that any big newspaper would like that.

Tne New York Times publishes letters regarding their editorials or op-eds. They allow differences of opinion to a certain degree, I think, depending on what they want said.

However, I can't remember any criticism ever being published of their editing skills.

They do a good job of editing, however, the editors would take umbrage at criticism, I'd think. And, I don't think they'd publish such letters.

Speaking of (copy) editing and proofreading, I saw a NYT editorial on Egypt within recent days which had two spellings of the same word within it: "protesters" and "protestors."

We all have pet peeves, those of us who notice this, and I notice different spellings of the same word within one piece, and it's annoying. It makes me think someone is asleep at the wheel--or at the AP Guide.

And, as I said at Adrian's blog, Chomsky's article reminded me of Sid Caesar's double-talk, and Prof. Irwin Corey was mentioned.

I agree; I know Corey, have met him and been at events with him. He talks the way he does in his act, unintelligibly. He makes a few good points, then the rest is garbled.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Solea said...

Can you post up your first comment? (or as close as you can 'memmer it?)
Remember, Chomsky is pretty old and he doesn't really write anymore; he records his lectures and has them transcribed. His monotone can be tough and he needs a good moderator to help him break up his thoughts and explanations. Chris Hedge is more my style & speed.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But on the more general point, they should teach that Chomsky piece in journalism/blogging school as a fine example of everything that should be avoided in an op.ed. or a piece of reportage or whatever it was exactly.

Adrian: You're right. Even Chomsky's allies ought to hold up his piece as an example of how not to make an argument. His prose style is abominable, and one hopes that someone loves Chomsky enough to tell him this. Only it won't happen at the Guardian, where criticism of prose style or of favored authors or of congenial political viewpoints is forbidden.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I'm not familiar enough with the Guardian to know whether its censorship is due to politics, sensitivity over its own exemption of a prominent author from editing, or both.

"Speaking of (copy) editing and proofreading, I saw a NYT editorial on Egypt within recent days which had two spellings of the same word within it:`protesters' and `protestors.'"

Try getting an American newspaper to admit that its standards of literacy have plunged. It will do so as readily as the Guardian will publish my comments. No newspaper will admit that its editing standards have slipped. Such a concession would cede too much power to copy editors, something that no newsroom, run as it is by reporters and former reporters, will do.

Your comments have got me interested in Professor Irwin Corey, whom I remember only from television commercials. He sounds as if he may be Chomsky but with a sense of humor.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solea, my first comment is lost to history because the Guardian does not permit criticism of itself. As nearly as I can remember, it included the sentence "How prominent does a writer have to be before he is exempt from editing by the Guardian?"

It had occurred to me -- briefly -- that Chomsky's abominable writing might be due to his age. But then I remembered those examples I cited over at Adrian's blog. The man was an incompetent debater in 1971, an awful public speaker in the 1980s, and a god-awful writer in 2011.

There is more than ample room for criticism of American foreign policy and media of the very type that Chomsky intends. I fear that because he is one of the few people making such criticism, and because he is such an obviously abominable writer, the belief will grow that comprehensible prose is irrelevant and that criticism of his writing implies support for the policies he abhors.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"... he needs a good moderator to help him break up his thoughts and explanations."

Solea, I have enjoyed interviews with Foucault and with Camille Paglia. I've enjoyed similar interviews with Chomsky less because one interviewer in particular was so obviously in his thrall that he seemed to concentrate more on flattering his subject -- on out-Chomskying Chomsky -- than on elucidating his thought.

February 06, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

It would help Chomsky's arguments for his articles to be well-edited.

There need to be transitions, conclusions--and some basics, like sentences with clear subjects, verbs and objects.

Editing doesn't harm a writer's ideas. A good editor can focus and enhance them.

Folks I know who edit wouldn't let that kind of article go through. They would think that it would weaken the arguments or cause confusion to readers.

And even if it is a transcript of a talk, that is something that still needs editing. I've seen it done, and I've done it informally.

No one just lets a transcript go through to print media unless it's stated that it is a verbatim transcript and quoted with quotation marks or offset somehow.

Yes. Irwin Corey is funny.

February 06, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I liked your second post. God knows I'm in deep trouble if we are no longer allowed a negative comment on someone's style.

Then I read (skimmed) the article. I rambles a tad but seems to illustrate hypocritical values in the U.S. when it comes to tolerating or attacking foreign governments. That's surely not news. In fact, the article contained nothing I had not already deduced from our own news coverage. CNN is pretty good at reporting.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It would help Chomsky's arguments for his articles to be well-edited.

There need to be transitions, conclusions--and some basics, like sentences with clear subjects, verbs and objects.

Editing doesn't harm a writer's ideas. A good editor can focus and enhance them.


Kathy, the Guardian is generally a decently written paper. I've never understood the argument that opinion pieces deserve less editing than news stories. Even if a Chomsky or anyone else is so vain as to believe that editing will harm his ideas, the writing has to meet basic standards of grammar and coherence. A writer refuses that scrutiny, and the publication just has to say, "Thanks, Dr. Chomsky, but we won't lower our standards for you."

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., my comments were not the only ones that the Guardian deleted. Chomsky tends to bring out zealots and loonies from all sides, and I'd assumed that the Guardian struck comments that went beyond the pale into vituperation and conspiracy theories. Now, though, I wonder if they had ventured into the more explosive (to the Guardian) territory of prose style.

It's surprising, really. Why should the style of a piece of writing be beyond discussion? That's like a magazine or newspaper letting its film critics write only about a movie's dialogue while barring discussion of its acting, lighting, editing, camera work and general tone.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I've been getting the New Yorker for the last six months and its been a bit of a waste of money because normally there is only 1 article that I actually like per issue; however that is an example of old fashioned editing techniques at their finest - great copyediting, fact checking and authors have to very much work within the box of the house style.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Timothy Hallinan said...

Where's Julian Assange when you need him? The Guardian's late-blooming pusillanamity toward WikiLeaks is pretty much all I need to know about them.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

And now I understand why my comments about Cuba were removed. I criticised the Guardian for failing to mention Yoani Sanchez and other dissidents in their travel piece. Criticise the author but don't imply that the editors are crap/corrupt/indolent.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, for obvious reasons, I must be circumspect in what I say in public about editing, copy editing, the decline of both, and the benign contempt within my industry for the latter. I can well believe that one article in each issue of the New Yorker can display the qualities you cite. Everyone enjjoys fascinating glimpses of the past.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Timothy, it sure appears that Assange doesn't like being a victim of leaks, doesn't it?

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And now I understand why my comments about Cuba were removed. I criticised the Guardian for failing to mention Yoani Sanchez and other dissidents in their travel piece. Criticise the author but don't imply that the editors are crap/corrupt/indolent.

Adrian: Yep, one may question the motives and practices of world leaders but not of Guardian editors.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian do you suppose the Guardian Web site's censors work beneath motivational posters that say:

WHO IS GUARDING THE GUARDIAN?

February 06, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Well they killed Rorschach so it aint him.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if the Guardian Web site's guardian is a real editor, or whether it's some intern or low-paid rookie under strict orders about what to delete.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not that I'd bother asking posting such a question on the site, though it could be pertinent to any number of questions.

February 06, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

About a year ago I read a story in the New York Times lede blog about football and the World Cup. They got two facts about Northern Ireland's World Cup appearances wrong (the dates and the number of them). So I mentioned this in my comment.

My comment was then deleted and the story was changed without mentioning that a correction had been made. I had never seen this particular trick before and I assume the blog writer did it himself. I complained to the Public Editor of the Times in pretty strong terms. I never received a reply to my email, however now all corrections to blog articles in the paper are duly noted, so perhaps keeping at the bastards does pay off.

February 07, 2011  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

This is ... amazing. And not in a good way. I mean, Peter, you're a winsome, intelligent writer, and even when I've disagreed with you I've never thought presented your point of view in an inappropriate way. Is the Guardian so heavy-handed that one can't even make such a simple criticism? Wow.

February 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, years ago, I pointed out some error or voiced some complaint to the then editor-in-chief of my paper via e-mail. I never received a reply, and a colleague of mine suggested that for him to have answered would have indicated that he was on my level. Perhaps something similar is at work here. Even the public editor at the Times may consider himself too good or too important to reply to the public.

I have also found that people do not always like having their mistakes pointed out to them, however gracefully this is done and however counter-productive it may be to refuse to acknowledge the help.

February 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, my comment was short, to the point, and neither vulgar nor insulting. It violated none of the Guardian's community standards -- at least none of the stated ones.

At first I thought that the Guardian barred discussion of prose style. Now I realize it bars criticism of itself.

February 07, 2011  
Anonymous Graeme said...

On standards.

" ... and your comment will be removed faster than if you criticized the British Royal Family at Speaker's Corner."

I have heard many a Speakers' Corner (note the position of the apostrophe) orator say the most scurrilous things about the Royal Family.

Who edits the editor, Peter?

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Graeme, it had not occurred to me that the Guardian might have deleted my comment because of a misplaced apostrophe. You may be right.

As for who edits the editor, this blog, like most, has no editor, just an author.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But even without an editor, I do have a better grip on some facts than does the BBC.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

I have to admit that the idea that Chomsky, whose belief in innate grammar seems unshakeable, does not actually write well himself has caused me to laugh out loud.

Nobody likes criticism, as is indicated in this thread. But sometimes a timely word can help improve things by offering guidance. It's a pity the Letters Editors don't communicate more.

Newspapers are full of hard-pressed people who get themselved tied up in knots and who don't always make perfect judgements, as we all know.

I know it may be little consolation, but at least they did not make a pig's ear of a piece of commissioned copy, which always seems more serious to me.

February 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Chomsky seems to have conformed to the cliche of the nervous, tongue-tied intellectual nerd throughout hois career.

As for what the Guardian does and does not allow, English tolerance may be more sharply circumscribed than American.

February 13, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, you're lucky
There was a time when English newspapers, including the Daily Mail, and possibly also the Guardian, refused to publish my criticisms of their anti-Manchester City FC bias.
Now I think they've finally relented.
And, better yet, they're no longer as biased
(or we no longer give them reason to be).

So keep fighting the good fight!
("We shall fight them on the beaches!")

February 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm curious about the reasons for deleting the other comments struck from the discussion. I wonder how many had been deleted for personal attacks, bad language, and so on, and how many for violating the apparent, though unstated, standard that the newspaper itself is off-limits for criticism.

So, Man U is the team of frontrunners in England as well as overseas?

February 20, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Previously Man U was the most hated team among fans of other teams, but with our new-found wealth, City now seem to have replaced them in those fans disaffections.

February 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, that's what I figured: Get a big foreign owner, join the top ranks what seems to me an increasingly uncompetitive league, and everyone loves you. Or hates you.

February 20, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

btw, Peter, you might not have checked it out, but I've completed the first draft of my first novel
(or actually a 'remake/remodel' of one of my late father's).

Prose-wise somewhat rough and ready, at present, although given the pace that I wrote it and that I barely consulted a thesaurus for the duration, that was probably inevitable.
Still, I'm very happy so far with the changes I made from the original and the way it all hangs together.

And the ending

February 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, a tip of the hat for the sustained effort.

February 21, 2011  

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