It's been years since Safire wrote anything I was interested in. On his retirement, he managed to pique my interest -- even though it is a bit "cute". Here he decodes the secret language of Safire. Emphases mine. I omitted the ones I think are dull; he claimed 12 but really only had 8.
January 24, 2005
How to Read a Column
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
....2. Never look for the story in the lede. Reporters are required to put what's happened up top, but the practiced pundit places a nugget of news, even a startling insight, halfway down the column, directed at the politiscenti. When pressed for time, the savvy reader starts there.
5. Don't fall for the "snapper" device. To give an aimless harangue the illusion of shapeliness, some of us begin (forget "lede") with a historical allusion or revealing anecdote, then wander around for 600 words before concluding by harking back to an event or quotation in the opening graph. This stylistic circularity gives the reader a snappy sense of completion when the pundit has not figured out his argument's conclusion.
6. Be wary of admissions of minor error... In piously making these corrections before departing, the pundit gets credit for accuracy while getting away with misjudgments too whopping to admit.
7. Watch for repayment of favors. Stewart Alsop jocularly advised a novice columnist: "Never compromise your journalistic integrity - except for a revealing anecdote."
8. Cast aside any column about two subjects... (Three subjects, however, can give an essay the stability of an oaken barstool. Two's a crowd, but three's a gestalt.)
9. Cherchez la source. Ingest no column (or opinionated reporting labeled "analysis") without asking: Cui bono? And whenever you see the word "respected" in front of a name, narrow your eyes. You have never read "According to the disrespected (whomever)."
11. Do not be suckered by the unexpected. Pundits sometimes slip a knuckleball into their series of curveballs: for variety's sake, they turn on comrades in ideological arms, inducing apostasy-admirers to gush "Ooh, that's so unpredictable." Such pushmi-pullyu advocacy is permissible for Clintonian liberals or libertarian conservatives [eg. Safire] but is too often the mark of the too-cute contrarian.
12. Scorn personal exchanges between columnists. Observers presuming to be participants in debate remove the reader from the reality of controversy; theirs is merely a photo of a painting of a statue, or a towel-throwing contest between fight managers. Insist on columns taking on only the truly powerful, and then only kicking 'em when they're up.
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