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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, May 28, 2006

You're kidding, right?

(AFP/Teh Eng Koon)

New Iranian Dragon Nuke.......ooops,just
a regulardragon on display, my bad.

Slate editor Jacob Weisberg on editing: “What?”

— Weldon Berger @ 1:28 pm

A Gregg Easterbrook review of Al Gore’s new film prompts Atrios to question the degree of contempt in which Slate Magazine holds its readers. I think I can help him out on this.

One indicator of how highly a publication regards its readers is in the quality of the content. Easterbrook’s review is borderline stupid. Media Matters provides perhaps too much detail on why that’s so: if you want the short course, it’s because Easterbrook finished reviewing the film in the second paragraph and filled out the rest of the column with factual errors and some truly bizarre straw men: “If Gore is so concerned about the environment, why does he still travel by air?” “If Gore is so concerned about poor people, why does he want to lower their standards of living by decreasing the use of polluting fuels?” Plus, he says Gore is a transsexual Martian who sighs a lot, as who among us wouldn’t.

You’ll notice I don’t link to Easterbrook’s review. This is because I’m taking a cue from Weisberg, who told New York University journalism students that his magazine “doesn’t believe in using quotations” because “quotations are there often to thank the sources, or for the writer to kind of congratulate himself on having talked to the person.” While I’m not prepared to dispense entirely with quotations, I do believe links are often used by writers to thank their sources or kind of congratulate themselves for having read the stuff they’re talking about, which interferes with the Weisbergian goal of keeping things “very tight and concise” and might lead some of my readers to check on things like whether or not Easterbrook actually called Gore a transsexual Martian.

As far as you know, he did. And if he didn’t, that’s okay too: Weisberg says my readers will catch it.

Another aspect unique to Slate is that its editors don’t believe in fact-checking. “We think it makes authors lazy and careless,” says Weisberg. “We like writers to be responsible for their facts. And we’ve also discovered that on the Internet, and particularly since the advent of blogging, mistakes get found out very quickly. So there’s a huge disincentive to making mistakes.”

Imagine how much grief the New York Times and Weisberg’s alma mater, the New Republic, could have avoided if editors hadn’t held out that fact-checking crutch to Judy Miller and Jayson Blair at the Times, and Ruth Shalit and Stephen Glass at New Republic. The poor kids were insulted by the implicit editorial assumption that they were lazy and careless, and we all paid the price.

At any rate, I’m covered: if I’m wrong about Easterbrook’s description of Gore, a reader will notice and tell me about it eventually, and if a few early readers don’t catch the correction, assuming I’m wrong, and go around thinking Easterbrook is even more of a demented flake than he actually is, well, that’s the nature of online publishing and that’s the cost of keeping things “tight and concise.” Why get it right the first time if someone will be along to fix it in a while?

Atrios’s specific question was “Um, Slate, do you really have such contempt for your readers that you publish Gregg Easterbrook under the title “Ask Mr. Science”?”

And the answer is, yeah, all that and more. Seems to work for them, though

Ah, fact checking. Why bother?

Because you can GET SUED for libel.

There is a reason besides writing I rely on news articles. They've been vetted. You can't get sued if the Times screws up.

So let's say Slate says I'm a child molesting cannibal. I can prove they made that up.What is their defense? We rely on our writers? Shit, I don't rely on myself. I check things I know are true just to make sure I remember it right.

So when I'm tooling around in my new Porsche and leaving my new Upper West Side brownstone, I'll be sure to thank the WaPo for my new fortune.

Uh, Mr.Weisberg, blogging is no excuse for lazy editing any more than it is for lazy writing.If the readers are catching factual mistakes, and they do catch them, that means I FUCKED UP. It isn't praiseworthy. It isn't a good thing. It is a BAD thing. It means I screwed up.

The Post lawyers must want to strangle him.

posted by Steve @ 1:15:00 AM

1:15:00 AM

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