Watch your language.

FWIW, I don’t think Harry Reid needs to fall on his sword for having used the word “Negro” approximately 40 years after its sell-by date. As one of our commenters put it yesterday, it’s hard to get older people to change their language, citing the nursing-home residents she works with. They insist on using such unfashionable terms as “colored girl,” for instance. Reid isn’t that old, but he’s old enough to have seen a few of these memos come down the pike, sometimes literally so — my paper was an early adopter of “African American,” at a time when even many black people weren’t using it, and it frosted my cookies, too.

That was a different time, though. I’m speaking of the late ’80s, when these things changed in far more formal ways, before it was one of those internet things that just appeared overnight, like Lolspeak or FAIL. There was a cadre of people in my newsroom — I believe their organizational title was the Committee for Chapping Asses — who curried favor from higher-ups by policing our pages for Wrongspeak, and no infraction was too small to generate a passive-aggressive finger in the face.

“I notice that when you slugged that story” — renamed a file, for you civilians — “on the Sino-Japanese trade talks, you called it SINOJAP,” one memorable exchange went.

The accused explained that yes, under our system for naming story files, we were only allowed about eight spaces to indicate to the database manager what the story was actually about, i.e. SHOOTING, or CITYCNCL.

“You need to know that JAP is an unkind term for certain Asian-Americans…”

“Yes, I know about World War II, thanks, but as you well know, we frequently abbreviate words in slug lines, and anyway, the only people who even see that are editors, and are you seriously implying that I had some racist intent here?”

“No, but this is something you need to be sensitive to. Other papers now abbreviate Japan as JPN. Thanks.”

You should have heard him the day an artist drew a cartoon of a mosquito as a kamikaze pilot. But those were the times. There was a huge blow-up over whether residents of the United States could be called “Americans,” seeing as how that was that excluded residents of other countries on the North and South American continents. You could no longer write about homosexuals, or even gay people; it had to be “gay and lesbian,” every reference, all the time. If we hadn’t been located in the ultraconservative Midwest, I’m sure it would have blossomed to “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgendered.”

Some of this stuff was easy to swallow; I believe you should call people what they want to be called, at least in polite relations, so OK, fine, you’re now African American, go with God. Other tiffs were more about the person doing the correcting than anything else; see the great abbreviation battle above. And some was just stupid, as the trend for making all those who endured a disease or traumatic experience not sufferers or victims but survivors. Mostly what I objected to was being told, as a writer, what my word choice had to be, usually by little weenies who couldn’t write an amusing text message, let alone 700 words of snappy prose.

And I didn’t like when the rules were enforced through robotics, although it did lead to some interesting items in Columbia Journalism Review whenever governmental bodies proudly reported their budgets were “back in the African American,” or when an outdoors writer (inevitably a dork freelancer who had enough trouble coming up with alternative ways to say “big fish”) was told he had to find a new word for certain bass lures, because the computer wouldn’t let him use the word jig anymore.

In his days as a police reporter, Jeff Borden noticed you could peg a cop’s age — and sometimes much more — by how they filled out their reports. The oldest would write MC (male colored), the middle-aged ones MN, and the youngest MB, and the hard-core racists MU (male usual). Orwell was right. Language matters. But that’s something I’m sure Reid knows by now. Peace be with him.

Slate looks at the same topic. Great headline: Watch what they say, not who they do.

I’m growing to hate Mondays, the busiest day of my week. Upside: By Wednesday, you feel the week entering a glide pattern. Not this one, though, with a big story due at the end of it and other kamikaze mosquitos buzzing around my head. I don’t have any more bloggage today, although maybe you’d like to discuss the a-bornin’ career of Sarah Palin, Foxy Gal…whatever it is she’ll be doing now. Finally, an excuse to buy a real wardrobe!

UPDATE: From the Department of Too Good to Wait Another Day, the sad-but-not story of the death of Mighty Joe Rollino, yesterday in Brooklyn.

Posted at 8:32 am in Current events, Media |

65 responses to “Watch your language.”

  1. Peter said on January 12, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Ms. Nall, a very timely story, not only due to Mr. Reid, but to my former governor Rod “Ultimate Whore” Blagojevich, who stated that he’s blacker than Obama.

    One comment at Tribune Online was right – Rod may not be blacker than Obama, but he’s definitely more ghetto – he’s unemployed, waiting trial, probably will be going to jail, has a slutty wife, and will be going on a reality show.

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  2. coozledad said on January 12, 2010 at 10:06 am

    When Trent Lott ventured publicly that the counterfactual election of Strom Thurmond would have saved us all that “trouble” in the 60’s, he was talking to a narrow constituency in the South, and moreover, to a specific group largely responsible for Trent Lott occupying a senate office (The Kouncil of Konservative Kzitizens, a kind of informal gathering of former college cheerleaders {male}). I don’t think you have to be a Southerner to know what he was talking about. But I think you have to be a Republican to find some equivalency between Lott’s and Reid’s remarks. You also have to cultivate the ability to sink your arm in your ass up to the elbow.
    Permit me to translate.
    Lott: “If there hadn’t been more yankees than real human bein’s in the Democratic party in 1948 we could’a kep everthang like it was and there wouldn’t be no nigras at the soda fountain at Woolworths or lookin up the miniskirts o’ the flower o’ Southern womanhood an I wouldn’t catch no shit for doin my Uncle Remus at the Scottish Rite an I could probley get mansome without them blue pills.”
    Reid:”I think white Americans will be pleasantly surprised blacks are not as depicted on the cop shows.”

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  3. Jeff Borden said on January 12, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Obviously, Harry Reid used badly outdated language, but I totally agree with Cooz that it’s absolutely impossible to draw equivalency with the noxious utterings of Trent Lott about Strom Thurmond. The funniest attack yet has to be from Michael Steele of the RNC, who was quick to attack the double standard applied to Dems and Reps in matters racial. This being the Michael Steele who a few days ago described a new GOP legislative agenda as one of the greatest political documents of all time, adding, “Honest Injun.”

    I’m probably naive, yet I remain hopeful that the next generation or two will finally put all this racial/sexual preference/gender warfare behind us for good. I recognize where I teach may be an anomaly, but I see no evidence the kids are as uptight about these subjects as my generation.

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  4. LAMary said on January 12, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Let’s not forget this was the Strom Thurmond who had kid with the household maid.
    Is it true that Sarah Palin is replacing Simon Cowell? I’m so busy I haven’t looked into this, but I heard Simon was leaving AI and Sarah was joining Fox. It makes perfect sense to me. She can sit between Ellen DeGeneres and Randy.

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  5. ROgirl said on January 12, 2010 at 10:53 am

    She knows as much about music as she does about politics. She’d be perfect.

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  6. paddyo' said on January 12, 2010 at 10:55 am

    It ain’t what Harry said that’s got the GOP’ers worked up. It’s that HE said it. In these Hatfields-and-McCoys times, they see Harry’s skin as akin to Trent’s. It’s so incredibly transparent, isn’t it?

    So, death by minivan is not what I hope for — but I’ll take the life lived up until then any day, or any century. Here’s to Mighty Joe Rollino . . . just trying to cross the street at his age, amazing. When your number’s up . . .

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  7. Sue said on January 12, 2010 at 11:01 am

    When I worked in a hospital in my younger days, we were instructed not to ask if someone “hurt”. No, we needed to ask if they were in “discomfort”. I kind of understood where they were coming from but also thought it was insulting to those who actually… hurt. That seems to have gone by the wayside, as most medical facilities now post those happy-to-sad-face “Pain scales” everywhere.
    And re automatic filters – I still laugh about poor Tyson Homosexual.

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  8. LAMary said on January 12, 2010 at 11:04 am

    We have one of those happy to sad face pain scales in the kitchen. I brought it home when my teenagers were in their non-verbal phases.

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  9. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 12, 2010 at 12:07 pm


    (That’s the discomfort i’m feeling about the current state of our “national conversation about race”)

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  10. Rana said on January 12, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    I tend to think that the screaming about Reid is just the latest iteration of “let’s call liberals intolerant hypocrites because we know they hate it”. Such accusations rarely bother them in reverse, simply because they don’t care if they are perceived in such ways. But they know that Democrats (and their base) do care, so they wield that stick whenever they can.

    Of course, they don’t really understand the nature of either tolerance or hypocrisy, so sometimes it gets weird.

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  11. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    We do, actually, dislike being perceived as insensitive; and while we’re weird, no doubt, tolerance & hypocrisy aren’t entirely beyond our comprehension.

    We’re just not as tolerant or sensitive as Democrats, or so they keep explaining to me . . . slooooowly.

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  12. Snarkworth said on January 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I recall a British newspaper that ran into trouble recently when it decreed that “the Queen” should henceforth be referred to as “Queen Elizabeth” throughout. Soon after, a feature about bees said, “Queen Elizabeth lays up to 2,000 eggs a day…”

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  13. Dexter said on January 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Great essay, nance. Sometimes we have to know what we we talking about.
    Call a Cajun a “coonass” and prepare to get an ass-whuppin’, but amongst Cajuns a coonass is a badge of honor, like African Americans used to call a best buddy an “ace boon coon”.
    I well remember the “Americans” controversy, and it made sense to me. How can “we” claim to possess the word when a giant continent is also an America.
    “America is going to war…” Oh yeah? Which America? What about Central America?
    Since this seed was planted many years ago, it still bugs me…why can’t writers just type “USA” or “U.S.A.” instead of “America”?
    In Winston-Salem in 1968 I arrived to report to a baseball team , and the owner had reserved rooms for us, two to a room. About the same time another player arrived and we hit it off in the lobby, and decided to just room together. The old man at the desk, a Doral constantly dangling out of his mouth, nodded at me to step aside and he told me “we don’t ‘low no colored and white in the same room here.” I got the message, the first of many lessons I learned during those two summers.

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  14. Dorothy said on January 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Am I in the minority WRT not liking the term African American? I never understood why that was so widely used. What if the person of color was Cuban or South American? If we’re ‘white’, why can’t they be ‘black’? Is it offensive? Can someone explain this to me? We could adjust it to ‘brown’ if someone takes umbrage to being credited with a skin tone darker than they are. But I just dislike the phrase because it seems to assume that all dark-skinned individuals are of African descent. I don’t refer to myself as “German-Irish and Polish-by-marriage.”

    When my daughter was around 7 or 8 she asked why we weren’t called ‘peach’ because our skin really is not white. She had a point.

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  15. Jeff Borden said on January 12, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Dorothy raises an interesting point.

    Many of the taxi drivers in Chicago are African immigrants. Some of the more outspoken cabbies are not bashful about bashing American-born blacks, who they perceive as lazy. (By their standards, since they often work 12 hours plus per day, most of us are lazy.) I tend to think the term ‘black’ works best in just about every context.

    When I was working on a major story about Hispanic entrepreneurs and business leaders in the Chicago area, I sought the counsel of some prominent members of the community about what was the preferred term: Hispanic or Latino. Almost to a one, they replied that no matter which term I chose, I would put someone’s nose out of joint. It used to be Hispanic referred to those who could trace their roots to the Iberian peninsula a.k.a. Spain. Latino became the preferred term by the U.S. government about 10 years ago, apparently. My sense these days is anyone who traces lineage to Spain, or to those nations once controlled by Spain, ie., Mexico, Central and most of South America, can be considered Latino, but then, I’m an old, bald white guy and hardly an authority.

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  16. LAMary said on January 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    African American is awkward. I get a lot of applicants from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya, and when the fill out the EEO part of the application , they have to check African American, although they are simply African. Makes no sense.

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  17. Rana said on January 12, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I also agree with the cumbersome nature of “African American” and also the whole Latin@/Hispanic/Chican@ issue, as well as the problems around the choice of Indian, Amerindian, American Indian, Native American, etc.. Each comes freighted with a lot of baggage, of different sorts, and what pleases one person grossly offends another.

    Jeff (tmmo), just as a point of reference, when I refer to folks like the ones I was describing, I’m almost always pointing to the sorts of screaming idiots (both sides) who make it onto television. I wasn’t trying to fit that shoe on you. (Indeed, in this particular instance, I have no direct skin in the game, as I am not a Democrat. In fact, I’m rather irritated with nearly all of them these days.)

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  18. jcburns said on January 12, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Irish-American Conan O’Brien says no to a 12:05 “Tonight Show.”

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  19. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 12, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Rana — with you on the “irritated with nearly all of them.” Them being all! But I’m trying to be less irritable this year (breathing helps), and I’m even trying to remember to use the cap on “I” when typing in these windows, since I know I’ve peeved some who thought it was an affectation instead of a Word induced laziness.

    Still trying to be cheerfully conservative, though, standing athwart history crying, “Um, uh, hold on a sec . . .”

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  20. MichaelG said on January 12, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I used to work with a guy who was born in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He was well into his thirties when he moved to this country and became a citizen. He was -is- white. His family had come from Great Britain. Being an African-American, he used to laugh at the various tortured characterizations. As is so often the case in this country, we seem to worry more about the sizzle than the steak.

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  21. Jolene said on January 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    I don’t refer to myself as “German-Irish and Polish-by-marriage.”

    Certainly when I was growing up, the question of whether one’s ancestors were Irish or German, Norwegian or Polish came up often. We were all white Christians in my little town, but it was not at all odd to have someone say, “What nationality are you?”. That question was readily understood and as readily answered, and there were observable differences between groups–mainly in some remnants of language, holiday foods, and the fact that the Germans and Poles were more likely to be Catholic and the Norwegians more likely to be Protestant. Concerns about ethnic identity have hardly been absent from U.S. history, even leaving aside (as if we could) the gross injustices suffered by people of color.

    I think “African-American” was adopted out of a sense of a desire for a sense of pride in origins that most of us have, even though most of us likely come from families that were among the poorest in their native countries. I agree that there’s no end of opportunity to offend people or to be offended. The best we can do, I guess, is try to call people what they want to be called even if it seems awkward and, if there’s no obvious malice, try to avoid getting too bent out of shape if someone calls us something other than what we’d prefer to be called.

    There was no real issue at stake in the Reid remarks. If Republicans hadn’t tried to make hay out of it, we’d never have heard about it.

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  22. Kirk said on January 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    I certainly don’t think Reid meant anything by it, either — and it’s not a huge issue — but is it too much to ask someone who is one of this country’s leaders to get his head out of his ass? It probably says less about him than it does about the class of politicians who are running things, but “That’s what we said in the old days” is a lame excuse.

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  23. Jolene said on January 12, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Reid has, apparently, something of a history of inelegant remarks. A guy on TV this AM said that Reid needs to remember that he is never supposed to speak to anybody other than another senator w/o his communications person (or maybe it’s his chief of staff), Jim Manley, present.

    I’m pretty frustrated w/ Congress too–the spinelessness, the selfishness, the posturing. It was probably ever thus, but I’ve never had such a strong sense that we are facing very serious problems–problems that require policy solutions–and that very few of the people in charge are trying in any honest way to solve them.

    One of my journalistic heroes, James Fallows, has published a new article called “How American Can Rise Again”. I’ve just skimmed it, but his central argument is that our policy-making processes are broken. Hope some of you will read it, as I’d love to be able to discuss it w/ you.

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  24. Jolene said on January 12, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    And, because I’m convalescing w/ the company of my keyboard, I’ll pass along this little story re Americans who really do come from Africa. Flying home to ND over the holidays, I sat next to a woman originally from Cameroon. She told me that she had met her husband, also from Cameroon, when she came to the United States to go to college, that they’d married, had two sons, and returned to Africa, where they’d lived until it was time for their the sons to go to college. At that point, they sought jobs in the U.S. and came back. Both are now community college teachers in the Pacific Northwest.

    As we chatted, I told her about a WaPo article I’d read about African immigrants who send their American-born kids back to Africa to go to boarding school because they fear the deleterious influence of American society. Referring to the article, I said, “They think their kids will get a better education in Africa.” This statement, which I think would be shocking to most Americans, was totally unsurprising to her. Indeed, she said, “Oh, we all think that.” Basically, her point was that American kids are soft, have too much, and encounter too many influences that take them away from their studies.

    One of her sons was currently a college student; the other had graduated and entered the U.S. military. It actually made me feel a little better about our future to hear her story. With such seriousness of purpose among immigrants, we can probably hold off decline a while longer. A little googling indicates that African immigrants and their children earn college degrees at higher rates than either American-born whites or American-born blacks.

    My conversation partner pointed out that what Africa lacks is what America has always provided to immigrants–opportunities for hard-working people to make their way.

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  25. Lex said on January 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    OT: Nance, I saw this at Texts from Last Night and thought of you:

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  26. mark said on January 12, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    “If Republicans hadn’t tried to make hay out of it, we’d have never heard of it.”

    I know you probably believe that, Jolene, but it ignores the reality that the comments were reported in a new book, by a couple of long-time political reporters, and that Harry Reid called a press conference to apologize for his remarks before the book was even released. And then the press reported the story.

    The Republicans would like to score points with it, yes, but it was Reid’s comments, the book and the apology that made the story. But I’m sure republicans are still responsible for the H1N1 flu.

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  27. LAMary said on January 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    I don’t understand why NBC would be so ready to kiss Jay Leno’s ass. He hasn’t been funny or original in a long time. He lost me years ago when he canned the band leader for not pretending to laugh at his jokes.

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  28. coozledad said on January 12, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Halperin’s a complete tool. I’m not a journalist, but it’s evident to me he’s not practicing it. He’s doing what he always told the Republicans he would do: Go to bat for them with whatever he had. The book is a fiction on the order of Primary Colors, masquerading as journalism, by people who lack the basic qualifications.

    “Silver Spring, MD: It is my understanding that Sen Reid’s remark was made almost two years ago, with reporters present. If true, why is it that this wasn’t newsworthy then, but it is now?

    “Ben Pershing: Reid didn’t make the comments in some public venue, he made it to these two authors who were working on their book and obviously wanted to save it for the book. The more interesting question, just from a reportorial perspective. is whether Reid thought the comments were off the record. The two authors — Mark Halperin and John Heilemann — have tried to explain how they were able to conduct their interviews on “deep background” but still name Reid as making these comments. I’m not sure if I understand their explanation.”
    Long-time political reporters, my ass. Long time check-cashers is more like it. And they’ve fashioned yet another Goldberg out of one of Halperin’s educationally retarded sprog. So we can anticipate even more Republican advocacy from another family of hacks.

    But this’ll blow over as soon as another anti-Gay Republican gets caught wiggling his schlong for a Campfire girl or a Weebelo. You can set a damned watch by it, these days.

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  29. moe99 said on January 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    C’dad you beat me to it. Halperin is a Republican tool of the first order.

    Here is what Joan Walsh had to say about it (the comparison of Reid with Trent Lott):

    “One guy is talking, perhaps inelegantly, about why he’s wholeheartedly supporting our first black president; the other is wishing the country had elected a racist. That’s exactly the same thing!”

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  30. Julie Robinson said on January 12, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    I’m with LA Mary that Leno is not/has never been funny, and with everyone who no longer knows what terminology to use for race. If possible, I avoid using any reference at all; frequently it isn’t necessary.

    Leftover from yesterday’s comments: Dorothy, I bet you’re a good lector at church because you’re an actor. My theatre training taught the importance of rehearsing and thinking about communicating the meaning of what I’m reading. Also, speaking up and speaking clearly.

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  31. ROgirl said on January 12, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Leno used to be funny, before he got the Tonight Show. I watched the first show, never watched again. Letterman must be feeling pretty good these days.

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  32. nancy said on January 12, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    He lost me with the Dancing Itos. I’m a Letterman girl from way back, and haven’t really wavered.

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  33. mark said on January 12, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Halperin is kind of irrelevant since Reid ADMITS he made the remarks. The accuracy of the reporting isn’t at issue.

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  34. coozledad said on January 12, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Moe: Joan’s quote is blunt historical analysis. We could use a lot more of that these days. Here’s one from Halperin demonstrating his bona fides as one of the lamest hacks to draw breath:
    “Matt Drudge rules our world!”
    I wonder if Halperin wears a fedora with a ‘Press” card stapled to it.

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  35. moe99 said on January 12, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    mark: but the interpretation of Reid’s remarks is false.

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  36. Jeff Borden said on January 12, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    I feel the same way about books like “Game Change” as I did when I read “The Jordan Rules,” a book about Michael Jordan by Tribune Bulls beat writer Sam Smith. The opening anecdote was about MJ throwing chairs around the locker room and calling his teammates “pussies” for being pushed around by the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs, when the “Bad Boys” eliminated the Bulls in seven games.

    Why, I wondered, didn’t Mr. Smith report this to his loyal Tribune readers? Why did he save it up for his book? I’d ask the same things of the “Game Change” authors, who allegedly are journalists, but I know the answer. They saved the “good” stuff for their frigging book.

    I won’t pick up this tome because I’m already suffering from near toxic levels of political gossip that has nothing to do with the deep, troubling and expensive problems facing our nation. I’m told, however, that it is filled with huuuuuuge revelations, like the fact that Sarah Palin is as dumb as a tree stump and Bill Clinton is a horny toad and John McCain is as cynical as any politician today. Wow! Stop the presses.

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  37. beb said on January 12, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Mark, Reid’s comments are kind of irrelevent. That Halperin chose to repeat them is the story here.

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  38. Deborah said on January 12, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    A friend who is Canadian and married to a black woman is rightfully peeved when his wife is described as an African American when she is an African Canadian if there is such a designation.

    And I agree with Moe and others who’ve commented, it’s not disputed that Reid said what he said. The problem is the misinterpretation, taking it out of context and generally twisting it’s meaning by comparing it to Lott’s statement which is just not comparable.

    I don’t think I have ever watched Leno, I occasionally watch Letterman. Mainly I don’t watch late night television, I’m either asleep, or if I can’t sleep I read, I do watch TV from about 8 to 9 or 9:30, mainly MSNBC, and of course Mad Men when it’s on whatever time that is.

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  39. coozledad said on January 12, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Dang. As my wife says, who needs terrorists when you’ve got dorks driving a forklift?

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  40. brian stouder said on January 12, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I’m with Jeff Borden; it seems to me that if you’re drawing a weekly paycheck and benefits from an employer, you damned-sure owe that employer all the fruits of the labor she employs you for (in this case – REPORTING!)…so then I wonderd if the publisher was connected to their employer, and it appears not. But enroute to that answer, I came across this –

    which has an interesting take on how Harper Collins is playing (or misplaying) the actual printing of the book, versus electronic release to Kindle (etc). (I will never, ever, ever own a Kindle, period.)

    an excerpt:

    A good guess for Game Change’s first print run would be less than 40,000 copies, which is still a very strong number out of the gate. The good news about the modern distribution system is that it can replace and reprint books in very short order. As demand swelled unexpectedly late last week, this week there have been reports of physical stores in New York, D.C., and Los Angeles airports having sold out of the book. Clearly, demand for the title is being redirected from physical stores (where they’re waiting for new copies) to online retailers. Amazon surely ordered more books to replace the ones already boxed and set to ship for yesterday’s launch. And bookstores, seeing the sales on Amazon, in all likelihood ordered more copies to push the book harder. How many copies? Only HarperCollins knows. But the smart money would say only a few weeks’ supply. Over the last few days, the publishing house has probably ordered a few different reprints. Those books are on the presses right now. They will be scheduled for delivery in the next few weeks when everyone hopes there will still be demand. So that number for books in print is notional. At some point in the next few weeks there will be more than 100,000 copies in print with materials for books ordered to be held ready at the printers just in case.

    Contrast this complicated, capital-intensive, and potentially wasteful process with what would have happened had Game Change been published in an electronic edition: nothing. Instead of managing the supply chain to anticipate demand, Amazon would have simply met demand with an endless supply of digital files. The incremental cost of each new sale would be nearly nonexistent and the risk of printing books that might not be needed in, say, four weeks’ time would be gone. Digital publishing offers acceleration to capture demand at any given moment and deceleration to reduce the waste. That ability could mean a substantial gain in HarperCollins’ profit margin. At the very least, having a Kindle edition would allow Harper to be conservative on the physical books while satisfying itself that it was capturing short-term demand with as much efficiency as possible. These forces will only increase as the installed base of e-readers increases. And yet, Harper is holding Game Change back.

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  41. brian stouder said on January 12, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    By the way – I saw a message on one of those lit signs that Fort Wayne Community Schools has in front of their schools, and it was quite thought provoking (a good thing, indeed)

    It said simply “HAPPY MMX”

    As I drove on, and wondered whether that was some new standard being pushed from the DOE or NCLB or whatever – it suddenly hit me!

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  42. Deborah said on January 12, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    I am going to admit something that I do that is bad, it’s censorship of books which is wrong, wrong, wrong. When I am in a bookstore and I see one of those hideous books for sale on the shelf, like by Glenn Beck or his ilk, I surreptitiously turn them around so that the cover is facing backwards. I know it isn’t going to stay that way and I’m probably stopping no one from buying it who wants it, but some lizard part of my brain tells me to do it and I do it. I’m not proud of it and now that I’ve admitted it here maybe I’ll turn over a new leaf and quit doing it.

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  43. brian stouder said on January 12, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    I’m not proud of it and now that I’ve admit­ted it here maybe I’ll turn over a new leaf and quit doing it.

    Deborah – I confess that this pun made me cackle; now Pam wants to know what I’m reading out here

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  44. Kirk said on January 12, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    I’m always tempted to stick a wad of chewing gum in crappy books like that, but I don’t chew gum so I never have. The closest I came was with the book by Jayson Blair, the lying New York Times reporter.

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  45. nancy said on January 12, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Laura Schlessinger’s career as a children’s author coincided with my time as a purchaser of children’s books. I always turned her books around, except sometimes her picture was on the back, which was more terrifying than the cover.

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  46. coozledad said on January 12, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    I don’t know if it was a reflection of the national trend, but Dr. Laura’s nude calendar sales were abysmal at our bookstore.

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  47. MichaelG said on January 12, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    I kind of like the idea of electronic books in principle but I’m a long way from actually buying a reader. Look at this:

    Maybe the new Apple notebook thingy will be better.

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  48. brian stouder said on January 12, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    I want books; books on the shelf; books in the bathroom; books on the nightstand; books that authors have inscribed; books that the young folks can pick up and read, too; books I can lend out and maybe never see again.

    Aside from that – here’s hoping that the unfolding cataclysm in Haiti/Dominican Republic isn’t nearly as bad as it looks like it may be, at this hour.

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  49. Denice B. said on January 13, 2010 at 12:28 am

    At costco, books are on a display table. I rearrange them and place good books on top of Glenn Beck books or Ann Coulter books. Childish, but satisfying.

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  50. Jolene said on January 13, 2010 at 1:10 am

    I love these small acts of commercial sabotage. Tomorrow, I think I’ll go to a bookstore and move some Sarah Palin books to an obscure area.

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  51. nancy said on January 13, 2010 at 1:13 am

    I saw a guy do that at a Costco a few weeks ago. Marched up to his buddy in the paper aisle and said, loudly, “You mean you DON”T want these?” while holding up three copies of “Going Rogue.” Then he tucked them behind some napkins.

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  52. David C said on January 13, 2010 at 7:37 am

    I’ve been known to move an Ann Coulter book or two into the fiction section.

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  53. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 13, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Yeah, and at our local library, in the dvd section, down in the “Foreign and Subtitled” section, i would notice that almost every time I’d go in, all of the Jesus related movies would be flipped face down and stuck at the back/bottom of the bin (Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pasolini’s “Gospel According to St. Matthew,” Mel Gibson’s shockfest). I’d flip them and refile them alpha-wise, which i tend to do on the shelves with misfiles anyhow (not pop them to the front like a good little God-botherer should, I know).

    Then a friend of mine got hired there, and I mentioned it to her once, and she turned quite red, and told me that it was another librarian, one that i should have realized was likely to do so (she’s a good German Marxist; only smile I ever got from her was when I signed out “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” no joke — it was for writing a column). Shortly after, they all vanished in a purge of “movies no one ever signed out.” Forgive me if I’m skeptical about how the standard was applied.

    And forgive me if I move “Going Rogue” copies back to their shelf when I find them stuck facedown in the calendar racks. Our nearest B&N has a few fun frolickers, too. May I point out that I think reshelving Dawkins’ & Hitchens’ screeds on religion is just making work for the working staff and would be an act of sheer childishness on my part?

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  54. mark said on January 13, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Childish? I think you are being generous.

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  55. coozledad said on January 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Britney the candidate.
    “While being drilled for upcoming interviews, ‘she would routinely shut down – chin on her chest, arms folded, eyes cast to the floor, speechless and motionless, lost in what those around her described as a kind of catatonic stupor’.

    The morning of her ill-fated CBS interview with Katie Couric, Ms Palin – ‘her eyes glassy and dead’ – was unresponsive to attempts to prep her as she was being made up.

    ‘As they were about to set off to meet Couric, Palin announced “I hate this makeup” -smearing it off her face, messing up her hair, complaining she looked fat,’ the book says.”

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  56. Jeff Borden said on January 13, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I would be willing to wager a very large sum that She Who Must Not Be Named will never, ever seek an elective office again. She clearly loves the attention and the power, but she refuses to do the hard work of study and preparation. Now, she has it made. Millions in the bank. A regular media outlet to keep her profile high. Six-figure speaking fees and first-class accommodations wherever she travels. A rabid fan base that will buy anything featuring her photo.

    What, pray tell, would this woman gain by reentering the world of politics as a candidate?

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  57. LAMary said on January 13, 2010 at 10:57 am

    JTMMO, do you check for other misplaced books at B and N or just the religious and right wing ones? Do you reshelve cookbooks or mysteries that have been turned over?

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  58. MarkH said on January 13, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Coozledad — RE: your first paragraph in #28.

    Since Halperin is a “complete tool”, not practicing journalism, and Game Change is “fiction on the order of Primary Colors”, what you put in #55 couldn’t possibly be true, right?

    Jeff Borden, you have summed it up very nicely. Before the ink was dry on her Fox contract, she was political toast.

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  59. brian stouder said on January 13, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Before the ink was dry on her Fox con­tract, she was polit­i­cal toast.

    Or, the toast of Republican politics.

    I think she doesn’t want the responsibility, but she remains viable (think RWR and Wagontrain theater brought to you by Borax)

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  60. Jolene said on January 13, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Mary, I think J(tmmo) is working to maintain order in the universe–setting aright the books that I and others have turned over and tucked into odd corners. This is probably an OK dynamic.

    This discussion of playing games w/ merchandise reminded me of a story from a family visit of long ago. I was going to grad school in Chicago, and my parents visited, along w/ the younger kids in my family. During a shopping excursion to Crate and Barrel, my brother, who was then about 10, set a big basket full of kitchen timers to go off at odd intervals.

    He didn’t tell us until after we’d left that he’d done it, so there was nothing we could do about it. We all wished, though, that we’d been there to see how people reacted when the timers started ringing.

    Awful news about Haiti.

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  61. Jeff Borden said on January 13, 2010 at 11:24 am


    I hear what you’re saying, but look at it through the prism of political professionals. She has trashed virtually everyone involved with the McCain campaign save McCain himself. She has stiffed prominent GOP organizations after accepting invitations to appear. She is opting out of CPAC gathering in favor of Tea Party Nation convention because the latter will pay her $100,000. (No wonder tickets to the event are over $500.) She failed miserably to excite the base in NY-23, delivering a reliable GOP district to the Democrats for the first time since the late 19th century. And I’ve yet to mention her enormous unfavorables among all but the most rabid right-wingers.

    I foresee an Ann Coulter-style career. SP will release an alleged “book” every few years. She’ll be a staple on Fox and other right-wing venues when they need someone to fling monkey poo at the camera. She’ll remain a fund-raising attraction.

    Fundamentally, though, I truly believe she has peaked as a candidate. I see no upside for her. My God, even at these appearances she is making such as the Tea Party convention in Nashville, all press is being barred. She doesn’t want anyone taking notes even when she delivers a prepared speech. For all her brassy talk, she’s a wimp and a weakling who hates being challenged.

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  62. moe99 said on January 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

    It’s an extra $350 to see her at the Tea bagger convention.

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  63. Peter said on January 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Brian, while I agree with your comment, the Snow Slut just isn’t on the same level as Reagan – I know he fell asleep all the time, and who knows how sane he was from ’85 on, but I didn’t know until recently that the guy put in unbelievable hours on the speaking circuit – he worked the room, worked the locals, met and talked to anyone who’d listen – this from someone you would think would stick to the airwaves. The guy built contacts like you wouldn’t believe. The Chicago term is walking the precincts, and that’s what he did. Our Lady of Wasilla, from what I can tell, just lumps that into old skool.

    It just hit me – you know, like Reagan, Jay Leno made it a point to schmooze every local affiliate he could when he was on the road, making promos, posing for photos, and that played no small part in him getting the Tonight gig, and probably is still behind what’s happening now.

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  64. brian stouder said on January 13, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Jeff – I agree with most of what you say; and I’d sooner bet against Michael Schumacher (which is to say, never!) than against Nate Silver over at fivethirtyeight, and he takes her political potential very seriously. As you say, she can make money flow – and at the end of the day, that gives her all sorts of political potential – whether for good or ill – for the advancement of whatever personal ambition she has, as well as whatever king/queen making she wants to indulge in (think Texas)

    When they write the book about the Palin saga in American politics, one important undercurrent in there may well be her role in stopping Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s rise – and the parallel arrest (along with KBH) of the re-emergence of the Republican Party afte the Bush debacle

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  65. MarkH said on January 13, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Jeff Borden, please don’t insult Ann Coulter.

    Why do all of you give Palin so much credit? Had she had the sense, drive, gonads, whatever it takes, to remain as Alaska governor, she might have had a chance, politically. The day she quit, she started the real downhill slide to irrelevance, except in the media and the chattering classes, where they know where everyone’s goat is tied. That’s why they publish everything they can about her: they know how people, especially liberals, are going to react. She’ll continue to be great copy.

    David Brooks’ prediction from ABC’s This Week around Thanksgiving has come true: she has revealed herself as nothing more than a talk-show host. Her beauty pageant past and her TV past have trumped ANY potential she might have had as a viable political candidate. Only extreme right wingers take her seriously, as Borden suggested, and it’s up to the rest of us to quit paying attention to her.

    Also, I predict, as time goes on, and she gradually reveals herself to her supporters, her new gig will not be good for Fox News. Eye candy for sure, but a bed of kelp in very other way.

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