Monday, May 05, 2008

The fun of writing op-eds for the New York Times -- and its special sensitivity to the word "Gee".

Boris Johnson has been elected Mayor of London. Boris is far more entertaining than any American politician dares to be, and in addition to being an M.P. was editor of the Spectator -- in which, a while back, he wrote about his experience writing an op-ed piece for the New York Times...
"Booris," said Tobin [the Times editor], "'we love it! Everybody loves it. But we have, uh, a few issues of political correctness that I have to go through with you." There followed a bizarre hour-long negotiation with New York, as I sat in the Grays Road carpark, and Tobin read out the politically correct version of my piece...

I had said something to the effect that you don't make international law by giving new squash courts to the President of Guinea. This now read "the President of Chile." Come again? I said. Qué?

"Uh, Boris," said Tobin, "it's just easier in principle if we don't say anything deprecatory about a black African country, and since Guinea and Chile are both members of the UN Security Council, and since it doesn't affect your point, we would like to say Chile."

How craven and mealy-mouthed can you get? Why is a mild insult more bearable because it is directed at a crisis-ridden Latin American country, rather than a crisis-ridden African country? Is it, heaven forfend, because one country is Hispanic and the other is black? ... [etc.]

In the whole poker game, I took only one trick. Tobin had told me at the outset that he had "issues" with my introductory sentence... I began the piece with the words, "Gee, thanks, guys," and Tobin wanted those words removed. For the life of me, I couldn’t see why.

"OK, Booris, I’ll tell you what the problem is. Our problem is that 'Gee' is an abbreviation for Jesus. For a century this has been a Jewish-owned paper, and we have to be extremely sensitive about anything that might offend Christian sensibilities. "We can say 'God', 'God' is fine, but we have to be very careful about anything that involves the name of the Lord and Saviour."...
Boris' full report. The Times op-ed.