The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Bloggers: What Not to Do

Posted on | October 4, 2010 | 8 Comments

There’s some stuff you shouldn’t do if you want to be a blogger, like make an ass out of yourself the way Tommy Christopher did in writing a “column” about the One Nation Rally.

The scare-quotes around “column” are required because Tommy Christopher is such a lousy writer. Once upon a time, when columnists required the investment of ink and paper to get published, you had to be a good writer to become a columnist.

What William F. Buckley did three times a week for all those years involved a high level of literary skill and rhetorical method. And I will be the first to admit that David Brooks is an excellent prose stylist, even if he is politically useless.

Pixels being dirt cheap, any blowhard nowadays can call himself a columnist on the Internet, and it has spoiled the meaning of the term. Look at how Tommy Christopher begins his paragraphs:

The main point of contention . . .
For the purpose of this discussion . . .
Given that disparity . . .
On that score . . .

White noise, you see? Nothing artful or engaging. Tommy Christopher is boring.

Whatever you say about my contributions to The American Spectator, I hope they’re never dull. Here’s the lede of one piece from a couple months ago:

Howard Zinn was teaching a class, but he wasn’t yet a professor and his classroom wasn’t at a university. It was late 1951, and the students who gathered for Zinn’s lessons in Brooklyn were his fellow members of the Communist Party USA. . . .

Never assume that whatever it is you’re writing about is so damned important that people have no choice but to read it. Construct your prose so as to grab the reader by the throat in the first sentence and compel them to read all the way through to the very end. Draw them in, tell them a story, and tell it well.

Let me brag some more. Those who were with me on the evening of January 19 will recall under what chaotic conditions this lede was composed:

BOSTON, Mass. — If every Republican in Massachusetts wasn’t inside the ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel on Tuesday night, it was only because the city’s fire marshal is a Democrat.
Ayla Brown, the “American Idol” daughter of Sen.-elect Scott Brown, was rocking the capacity crowd to the tune of “Some Kind of Wonderful” when it was announced that Democrat Martha Coakley had conceded. The crowd began to chant: “John Kerry’s next! John Kerry’s next!”
Like the 2004 Boston Red Sox who broke an eight-decade curse by winning the World Series, Brown’s victorious surge has inspired Republicans in Massachusetts and nationwide to believe that anything is possible. . . .

C’mon, admit it: That was good. That story moves. And the fact that it was written while I was bone-tired, half-drunk and racing to meet a midnight deadline is a testament to the decades of discipline necessary to get that good.

Writing is a skill, not a talent, and developing that skill requires thoughtful practice, a continual striving for improvement. Work at it hard enough and you can make it seem effortless, but it takes a lot of effort to get there, and Tommy Christopher hasn’t made that effort.

His sentences lack rhythm. They don’t dance or sing. They clunk.

So Tommy Christopher is a bad writer, and that’s two strikes against him even before we consider the fact that he’s also wrong. He compares the One Nation rally to Glenn Beck’s 8-28 rally and says that a solid estimate of crowd size is “more elusive than Sasquatch.”

Perhaps in terms of absolute numbers, yes. But if you’re comparing two events, it’s not really elusive at all.

A bad writer who’s also wrong might want to heed the First Law of Holes, but Tommy kept right on digging: He got into a Twitter pissing match with Ace of Spades.

Bloggers: Do not do this. Ace gets 100,000-plus visits a day, and if he decides to make you the punchline of one of his running jokes, it won’t end good for you.

Don’t do it.


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