May 28, 2003
A Pertinent (Mis)Quotation

One of my favorite quotations goes something like this:

When it comes to congressmen, it's not what they do that's illegal that's shocking, it's what they do that's legal.

Unfortunately, I can't remember who said it, or when (early 1980s?), or the exact words, and Google hasn't helped at all. One reason I'd like to track all this down is that the quotation is so pertinent to journalism as well as politics. I'm sure Jeff Jarvis is right that Rick Bragg's practice of putting his name on news stories that he couldn't be bothered to report himself is common practice in the industry. But it's still shocking and offensive, or ought to be -- it certainly offends me --, and the New York Times ought to put a stop to it. Maybe there should be an amnesty for previous sins by Bragg and his brethren, but my personal opinion is that heads should roll if they continue to pretend to report things they haven't actually witnessed.

Why is the practice so offensive? Partly because it seems downright feudal. A famous name and exalted position entitle their owner to the ius primae lineae, the "right of the first line". That's not entirely unlike the ius primae noctis.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at May 28, 2003 12:17 AM

The WSJ usually puts a line or two at the bottom of an article to show the other people who contributed in some manner to the construction of the article. If other papers did this, it would go a long way to solving the problem.

Posted by: MommaBear on May 29, 2003 11:24 AM

A similar remark is often credited to Michael Kinsley: "The scandal isn't what's illegal, it's what's legal." But here's an article where Kinsley credits it to that fount of all wisdom, Anonymous.

I guess that wasn't much help.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on May 30, 2003 09:18 AM