“I’m the Writer. I’m Important, Too.”

Joe Flint, media reporter for the Wall Street Journal, tweeted on 1/30/19:

I usually stop reading a story as soon as the writer works themselves into the piece. These days that often mean I don’t get past the first or second paragraph.

While editing the Washingtonian, I shared Flint’s feelings about writers saying “Look at me.” I had one good writer who liked to liberally tell the reader “he told me.” Usually I’d give him one or two “he told me” mentions and change the rest to “he said.”

While reading the “Mitch McConnell got everything he wanted” cover story in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, I was so floored by writer Charles Homans pounding his chest that I took a magic marker and put a purple line through all his “he told me” writing.

The purple lines included Ryan told me, McConnell told me, Durbin told me, McConnell told me, J. Scott Jennings described to me, McConnell told me, Terry Carmack told me, McConnell told me, Feingold told me, etc.

There were 35 of the “told me” constructions. Don’t forget me! I’m the writer!

Giving Homans a lukewarm defense, McConnell is not the most colorful guy for a cover story.

But should Homans be given a pass on this lede that would set off any reader’s b.s. detector:

At sunrise, there it was: a red-tailed hawk, its gyre widening over the United States Capitol building in the Creamsicle-colored light, like the world’s least subtle literary reference. It was still there by midafternoon, drifting on the thermals over the mostly depopulated National Mall, wheeling occasionally past the window in the hallway outside the office where the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, sat on the 20th day of what would soon become the longest government shutdown in American history.


  1. Barnard Collier says

    “Told me” rings your BS alarm.

    Except in Lewis Carroll’s case, The word “gyre” lights up red and blue blinking BS alarm light for me.

    Not to speak of “Creamsickle-colored light”.

    I think it is Homans’ habit to use “told me” in what I suspect is an attempt to tell the reader that he isn’t putting the story together from quotes gathered online (like so many stories are now), Many or most of his stories in other publications use the form.

    More annoying to me is Homans’ relentless use of utterly irrelevant background “red-tailed hawk” flybys
    to, supposedly supply colorful contrast. They don’t. They’re just sterile, hollow, shallow trivia.

    It requires a master to dig deep enough to pinpoint the vital facts that really make a story sing. Homans, from the too many pieces by him I’ve read, is best at the unctuous repetition of the obvious.

  2. Jeffrey Denny says

    Per Homans’ latest in NYT, “Old Times,” I can only hope that future generations reflect even more smugly on his. Or maybe writers will finally get bored and over themselves? You know, for the future of humanity? Where are the Times editors who call BS on writers like Homans? Oh, right — they’re peers. Like goldfish they don’t realize they’re swimming in their own offal.

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