Posted tagged ‘Penguin Press’

More people (other than Larry King) who don’t make a lot of sense in public

January 27, 2015

Last year I called out people and institutions for messing up the language in ways big and small. Once again, I’m not elbowing ordinary folks for mistyping an email. Instead, they’re either public figures who should know better or institutions that have editors, PR experts, or other professionals to make sure they communicate properly. Or both.

You’re role models, and these errors are preventable, folks. Please, care enough to prevent them!

“It’s Regency Furniture’s 25th silver anniversary.” Really? The furniture company has been around since 1389? Listening to the radio in the car one January night, I responded, “You did not just say that!”

Advertisements for Ford vehicles have been using the tagline “Go Further.” I guess we can assume the company is talking metaphorically rather than literally about the vehicles’ ability to drive a long distance on whatever fuel they use. Because that would be “farther.” Wrote, “The new slogan, ‘Go Further,’ is intended in part as a warning against complacency after three years of profits, executives say.” Oh. Then maybe it’s not a grammatical mistake….

On January 6, the sports page of the Washington Post Express told us about this year’s “parody-filled” NBA conference. That it may be. Also parity-filled. But I like it the first way better.

Did you gift this to someone for the holidays? “ ‘The Art of French Gifting—La Vie est Belle’ Holiday Soirée Purchase with Purchase ($89 Value)” by Lancome. I love what the Atlantic said about this abuse of the English language: “Would you ever say ‘gifting’ out loud? Would you ever, without a sense of irony or shame, ask someone the question, ‘What can I gift you for your birthday?’ No, most likely, you would not. Not only because you are not (I am assuming) socially awkward, but also because, more to the point, you are not—or you would very much prefer not to be—a stooge of Madison Avenue.”

Scott Pelley, anchor, CBS Evening News: “There’s the First Lady in the First Lady’s box with several guests that have been invited.” No, no, Scott. A journalist of your experience should know that people and named animals are who; objects and unnamed animals are that. (This is the second time I’ve dinged Mr. Pelley for a grammatical bugaboo.)

NBC’s Anne Thompson, on the eve of January’s blizzard: “New York’s streets will most likely shut down by 11 p.m. tonight.” Not to single out NBC; Thompson’s hardly the only reporter to inflict this redundancy on us.

Penguin Press, which is touting a very political memoir by the very political David Axelrod, just put out a release with a whopping mistake in it. As Foreign Policy wrote, “Can you ‘C’ the typo?” “… I’m reaching out regarding BELIEVER: My Forty Years in Politics by David Axelrod, which we are proud to publish on February 10th (exactly 8 years after Senator Barak Obama stood on the steps of the Old Capitol Building in Springfield and announced he was running for president of the United States). … No other person, except perhaps for Barak Obama, knows exactly what it took to make that announcement possible ….”

I count seven errors (not just style quibbles such as hyphenation) in this story from WIOD Radio about an embarrassing government typo:
“Advertising Error Forces Miami-Dade County To Re-Approve 2015 Budget”
“Deja Vu for Miami-Dade County as commissioners are being forced to re-approve their 2015 budget.
“The Florida Department of Revenue says the county has to re-adopt it’s property tax-rate and budget again because of a numerical error that was detailed in a September newspaper advertisement about the tax rate.
“Residents’ rate won’t be changed as a result, and the notices sent out via mail were correct and do not have to be re-sent.
“But Commissioners are expected to hold it’s new hearing early next month. They have to hold another public hearing, re-issue the newspaper ad, and hold its vote.”

And now a promising note: “Report a Typo or Grammatical Error”
“FOX40 takes accuracy in our writing very seriously, but errors can sometimes slip through. If you notice a typo or grammatical error, please let us know.
“Using the form below, let us know which story you found the error in and we will promptly correct it.
“Thank you for reading”
Hey! Thank you, Fox40, the Fox affiliate station in Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto, California. I hope people take you up on this—or rather, don’t, if it indicates you’re doing a good job on this front.

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

The postscript to Petraeus’s biography

November 11, 2012

When the news broke Friday that General David Petraeus has suddenly resigned as head of the CIA because of an extramarital affair, I immediately pasted the Washington Post head and deck into an email to my Army brother with this subject line: “Oh no!”

It wasn’t yet public who his partner had been in this affair – or that some of his closest aides in the Middle East had noticed the general’s growing intimacy with the woman and had had the same thought.

Already we’ve seen, and will more in the coming days, several lessons from this mess. 1. As my brother hinted in his response (or maybe I’m just reading into it), men – will they ever learn? Nope. (Or in a variation learned from my college roommate, the smartest people can be really, really stupid.) 2. You can never know another person’s marriage. Maybe you can never fully know your own, either. 3. In this technological age, it’s harder and harder to keep a secret. 4. True, but as usual, this one was blown open by human frailty (chutzpah, hubris, jealousy, etc.) before the machines got involved. 5. Deployments threaten families and marriages – one of the issues Holly Petraeus had long worked on as an advocate for military families. 6. Geez Louise, what can possibly be worth the risk of your job, your marriage, your personal and professional reputation, and the pleasure of having your private life not splashed across every front page and news broadcast in America?

But the “who” is what I found intriguing here. The pretty, much younger woman involved is the lead author of Petraeus’s bestselling biography. They had quite a lot in common, which is surely what led to the strength of their acquaintance. Of course you want chemistry – at least a strong working relationship – with your biographer, but that may not be the best reason to choose a particular person.

From the Post’s article about her: “The woman, Paula Broadwell, then 37, had never written a book and had almost no journalistic experience. … [Petraeus] had until then been extraordinarily careful in managing his public image, allowing limited access to a handful of journalists, former aides say. … Peter Mansoor, a former executive officer on Petraeus’s staff, said he thought the general’s uncharacteristic confidence in an untested writer was ‘strange.’ ‘My gosh, if you are going to have someone interview everyone who has ever touched you in your life, choose someone who has written a biography or at least a history book,’ he said in an interview Saturday.”

(Not to mention that she regularly wore “unusually tight” clothing in an Islamic war zone and spilled “sensitive operational details” in Facebook posts from the same war zone. But see Lessons 1 and 1a above.)

Yes, the second coauthor is Vernon Loeb, a Post and Philly Inquirer editor who has overseen DoD coverage. Still, celebrities and their publishers aren’t focused on the second coauthor. If you are arguably the preeminent general of a generation, so concerned with your image for posterity, do you follow your ego (or worse) and choose a newbie with whom you have a lot in common and a ton of chemistry? Or do you pick an experienced biographer or reporter, someone who may not be as flattering, as deferential? It’s a serious question, what kind of biography you want for the ages. And what does each member of the team realistically contribute to that end?

You could say the proof is in the pudding; the book garnered strong but mixed reviews and became a bestseller. Or you could look at the fact that this untested writer used seriously questionable judgment on several occasions – including in sending threatening emails to a perceived rival, which is what got the FBI on her trail and led to a scandal that made headlines around the world.

It’s easy to come up with another lesson: Choose a biographer with a track record, one at least with a background as a reporter/writer/editor etc. Would that have avoided trouble, though? Has a professional biographer never, ever begun an affair with the subject? Has a professional, experienced writer never been known to go off the deep end and do something really dumb, even borderline criminal?

I’m going to have to fall back on Lesson 2 here: I can’t see inside either one’s marriage, and unless they spill to the press (this is contrary to my professional interest, but honestly, more people would be smart to keep their mouths shut!), we’re not going to know much. I would, however, like to know what Vernon Loeb thinks. He might write a column for the Post; I’ll keep an eye out for that. His view of this mess would be both unique and enlightening.

Addendum, Monday night. There it is! “Petraeus ghostwriter ‘clueless’ to affair.” By Vernon Loeb. First sentence: “My wife says I’m the most clueless person in America.” Heh. In the photo, he looks like an older version of Sean Penn in Milk. Turns out he and Broadwell were paired up by their mutual agent – he to be the ghostwriter at home in Maryland, she to be the researcher with unfettered access in the field. “An incredible opportunity,” he thought. When people raised eyebrows about the researcher and the general, he says, he always gave her the benefit of the doubt.

As for the biography and its authors, “the editors at Penguin Press were quite clear about what they wanted: a book on the rigors of command told from an inside point of view,” he says. “I had no say over the book’s ultimate take on Petraeus, which some have found excessively laudatory. Broadwell was free to make whatever revision or modifications she desired to the text, and did so liberally.”

Copyright 2012 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.