Nov 4, 2009

For Glenn Adams and David Crary of The Associated Press


May I relate a short tale? Thank you.

The world was younger and I was covering a legislative session for the AP that we three all cherish. Republicans outsmarted minority Democrats on a parliamentary maneuver. I wrote that the Democrats "howled angrily" at the ruse. It never occurred to me that gratuitous figurative language in straight reporting might rightly be considered editorial comment.

My bureau chief, Dan Perkes, later head of AP News features, called me into his office and gently corrected me. I say gently because the bleeding was well controlled with a tourniquet improvised from used Model 15 ribbons.

Glenn, David, I wonder if you could keep that in mind next time you are tempted to write something like dealing the gay rights movement a heartbreaking defeat in New England, when reporting an election result. I'm sure you would bristle at a challenge to produce for public inspection a gay movement (which I suppose could consist of as few as two gays, but that would be damned lame) whose hearts are demonstrably broken. But that is precisely what good editors did to green reporters in the days when we still had and deserved a little respect.

"Jim," Bureau Chief Perkes said, "next time you write shit like that you'd better have a picture of Democrats on their knees, their eyes raised to the moon, and a tape."

Heartbreaking my ass, boys. In the first place the voters' decision was so widely expected that the heartbreak would have taken place weeks ago and hence been old news. In the second, heartbreak is, by definition, a subjective condition of the innermost soul, a place hardly ever revealed, even to crack wire service men.

If you really wanted to use the term, all you had to do was dial a couple of your gay contacts and quote them as saying they were suffering heartbreak. Then you would have been reporting, not emoting.



Important Edit: Or did some dim desk jockey insert the word into your copy?