For Those Who Love Semicolons

By Barnard Law Collier

I select the semicolon as the mark of punctuation that is so elegant and cool it causes comma slobs acute distress. The semicolon knows this and wryly winks at the idea. 😉

If you are in league with semicolons, your understanding of cause and effect, and the duration in between, may suffuse your copy with semicolons. You can wallow in the mark’s theatrical expressiveness; you can imagine some of the offbeat ideas a semicolon can induce; you can get lost in the balletic way semicolons mix and mingle;

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How Journalist Hugh McDonald Became Collateral Damage in the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

Hugh McDonald was a reporter for Newsday in New York when in 1967 he received a Congressional Fellowship to work in 1968 on Capitol Hill. Hugh asked Frank Mankiewicz, press secretary to Senator Robert F. Kennedy, if he could spend the fellowship year in RFK’s office. Mankiewicz said yes and Hugh became Senator Kennedy’s assistant press secretary. On March 16, 1968, Senator Kennedy anounced he was running for president and two weeks later President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not run for reelection.

Another Reason Why Some Very Good Journalists Can’t Find Work

In talking with another editor about a writer we both admire, we agreed that the writer seems to have semi-retired despite being in the prime of life. What happened to him?

Our guess is that while the writer had found print editors who would put up with him because of his talent, he doesn’t fit into the world of digital journalism where teamwork is prized. And much of print now seems an offshoot of digital journalism—the Washington Post’s Reliable Source column today featured clickbait items on Kathy Griffin and Kim Kardashian.

RIP Douglas Bennet: Writing Well Was One of His Many Talents

Doug Bennet at Wesleyan University.

Douglas Bennet, best known for being president of Wesleyan University from 1995 to 2007 and for saving NPR from financial disaster in the 1980s, died June 10. Also notable were his two sons: Michael, the U.S. Senator from Colorado, and James, editor of the New York Times editorial page.

The Washington Post obit mentions that Doug worked for Vice President Humphrey after receiving his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1967.

The White Suit Was Camouflage: Tom Wolfe Was Tough

Tom Wolfe had a dead eye for the telling detail.

From an appreciation of Tom Wolfe by Joseph Epstein in the Weekly Standard.

Tom Wolfe never minded making enemies. Early in his career he took on William Shawn and the New Yorker in an essay called “Tiny Mummies! The True Story of the Ruler of 43rd Street’s Land of the Walking Dead!,” guaranteeing that he would never appear in that magazine’s pages.

Before All the Politically Incorrect Talk From President Trump, Spiro Agnew Was Calling a Reporter the “Fat Jap”

Gene Oishi in 2015 at an Asian American writers’ workshop.

When the names of Donald Trump and Richard Nixon appear in the same sentence, it usually relates to the subject of impeachment and to bad actions, not bad words. It was Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, who was an early version of Trump’s let’s-see-who-we-can-insult-today verbal style.

The most famous Agnew insult, coming after he called Polish-Americans “Polacks” and Vice President Humphrey “squishy soft” on communism, came during the 1968 campaign when Nixon and Agnew were running against the Humphrey-Muskie ticket. It was described for the February 1972 Washingtonian by journalist Jules Witcover, who went on to write a book, White Knight: The Rise of Spiro Agnew, for Random House.

How Media Attacks on Trump Echo the Press vs. Nixon: “They Think That All It Takes to be Virtuous Is to Hate Him”

In Charles McCarry’s novel, Second Sight, a famous 1970s television journalist, Patrick Graham, and his wife Charlotte are talking at dinner with David Patchen, head of the CIA, and his wife Martha, a Quaker.

Graham said, “Are you an acquaintance of Dick Nixon, Martha? He was a Quaker, too, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, poor man.”

“You sympathize with him?”

“Yes, of course, they have tormented him so. But I feel even more sorry for his enemies.”

Sorry for his enemies? What was this? Both Grahams were fully alert now.

“You do?” Charlotte said. “Why is that?”

The Editor Who Loved Commas

I have unfortunately lost a long letter sent me by a professor of English in London, whose specialty is punctuation. He queried 12 or 15 commas in 12 or 15 different New Yorker pieces, finding them “unnecessary and disturbing.” From one casual of mine he picked this sentence: “After dinner, the men moved into the living room.” I explained to the professor that this was Harold Ross’s way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up. There must, as we know, be a comma after every move, made by men, on this earth.

Editors, Don’t Let Art Directors Do This to the Reader

The University of Wisconsin alumni magazine has an inviting cover story, “Madison Revisited: See, do, and eat what the UW’s hometown has to offer in 36 hours.” Having enjoyed my four years in Madison, sometimes attending classes while working as a bartender, I looked forward to seeing and reading about what Madison is like now.

The story has 15 color pictures, all inviting, and I was curious what the pictures showed, who the people were.

Ira Glass on Getting People Into a Story: “You Gotta Be Tricky”

Ira Glass of This American Life.

From the commencement speech of Ira Glass, host and producer of the radio show This American Life, at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism:

I really believe that the more idealistic your mission, the more cunning you have to employ to get people to engage with what you have to say.

On our show, we did two hours from the refugee camps in Greece, and we were very aware that if we said at the top of the show “Okay, great! America! Two hours from refugee camps in Greece!” I think any reasonable person would turn off the radio. Like that’s just too sad.