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Caveat lector

22 May 1998

Smile-a-while: So why can't our politicalscribes be like the people who write about Mike?

Synopsis: When sports writers tell us what Michael Jordan says, they're careful to get it just right.

Bulls Are Unhappy With Rodman's Return to Form
Michael Wilbon, The Washington Post, 5/21/98

Remember how we howled last week when the press hacked up those Hubbell tapes? In particular, remember how they would edit the prison tapes, and never use ellipses to acknowledge deletions? (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/13/98)

We said at the time that, although they were covering a story that might lead to impeachment, they acted as if they were typing up pro wrestling schedules. Well, it turns out that the people who write basicsports are careful to edit quotes right!

Yesterday morning, Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post was writing about the Chicago Bulls. And yes, we'll admit, it was a major story, about how Dennis Rodman's been acting up lately.

Here's how Wilbon quoted Michael Jordan on the matter of Rodman's deportment. We reprint two paragraphs of Wilbon's story, exactly as it appeared in the Post:

WILBON: "Dennis has to maintain a certain focus," Jordan said. "I think Phil has been unhappy with some of his antics of late, being late to practice, not showing up when he should be there. We've had a conversation with Dennis...

"No matter what he does [after hours], we've never really questioned that. We've always given him enough time to be Dennis. But when we come to work, he has to be here to work. And I think that is something that Phil wants to reiterate... [Rodman's] not flaking out, he's just trying to get some attention. And if he needs some attention, we'll certainly give him as much as he needs." (Wilbon's ellipses and brackets)

Can you see what we noticed when we read this account? Wilbon has carefully edited Jordan's quotes, the way our political writers didn't bother doing. Everywhere he omits part of what Jordan said, he lets us know with a respectful ellipsis!

To be fair, Wilbon's reporting a major story. A great deal turns on Rodman's "antics," especially at this time of year.

The only point we were making last week was: the Hubbell tapes were a big story, too. People were accusing President Clinton of substantial misconduct, and talk of impeachment has been in the air. Certainly no one would say that the Hubbell story is as big as the story of the Rodman misconduct; but if Michael Wilbon can manage to get his quotes right, can't the celebrity press try it, too?

And then it occurred to us, reading Jordan's statement, that the explanation was staring us right in the face. Of course! Maybe the celebrity press corps, like Rodman himself, has been acting out just to get some attention! They always have to spend their valuable time describing what Clintonsays and does. Maybe their refusal to follow simple rules of their trade was all just a cry for attention!

So maybe we should stop finding fault so much, and look for the pundit behindthe gross error. Here's what Jackson said about Rodman:

WILBON: Asked if it was irritating to have to search for Rodman during a play-off game, Jackson said: "It was...I'll have a talk with Dennis in the next couple of days and try to get him straight." (Ellipsis Wilbon's)

Maybe that's something that we'll have to do. You know-take a sulking pundit to lunch, and avoid any talk about punctuation marks at least until he or she is enjoying dessert?