On Sunday, while suntanning its legs, iPad-Googling for bathroom light fixtures and hand-writing a magnum novelistic opus (sort of), the DLR scanned the New York Times‘s predictable three-day weekend article, which was headlined ‘Let’s Be Less Productive‘. You don’t need to read the article to get the gist of the argument, which is fortunate, because then you can save your slot of non-productive reading time for the other ten million things you have to do. Because the fact of the matter is: no one has any time any more!
But that shouldn’t excuse lazy journalism. In fact, if the events of the last few months tell us anything, nothing excuses lazy journalism. But we’re not talking here about invading people’s privacy or making grieving relatives think you’re alive. This is just about the minor writing construction: ‘often described as’. For example, from this Gallerist article on Hauser & Wirth, the London/New York gallery, and one of its principals, Iwan Wirth:
At 41, Mr. Wirth is often described as “boyish.”
That simply means that Iwan Wirth is boyish, the writer wants to say he is boyish, but he realises in all the Google-researching he has done everyone already calls him boyish, so he has to at least signal the fact that his description is not going to be original. This is borne out by the fact that the writer then immediately lists the way in which Iwan Wirth is boyish.
He has a round face, ruddy-cheeks, falling curls and a “Let’s all do this thing!” demeanor, a contrast to the blasé, “this thing barely requires you” attitude embraced by other top dealers.
(Though we have to say we weren’t prepared for this following statement: In addition to art, he collects axes. That’s slightly frightening but good detail. Savile Row pedestrians, beware; the man’s office has glass walls.)
Similarly, in the Guardian this past weekend, the Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel is “often described as a rock star professor” — a point corroborated by the BBC, just over a month ago, as well as by the Daily Beast, the Times of India and Thomas Friedman in the New York Times (maybe he was just being unproductive). Decca Aitkenhead, Radio 4, Tina Brown, Indian Maoists and Tom “friend of the postcolonial youth of the world” Friedman, we tar you all with our bloggish brush!
“Often described is”, of course, another way to put something out there you’re not sure about and then disavow any responsibility if someone challenges you. Thomas Friedman, for example, is often described as relying too heavily on personal anecdotes to open his columns — “as I was saying to my friend Mahmoud as we were smoking shisha in Aleppo” — that kind of thing. But ha! Thomas Friedman is not often described as anything of the kind. That’s just our opinion. But if you quote us on it, we’ll pass the buck. A technique we learned, and this is not true in any technical sense of the term, from Rupert Murdoch, suggesting once again that one of the truest techniques of lazy journalism is that if you don’t have a new point to end on — bring your argument full circle.