Thursday, August 14, 2014

The train is coming, the train is coming


 Obituaries make a big, fat target for criticism of poor editing, in part because they are often pulled together at the last moment, since death usually arrives inconveniently.

Newspaper obituary departments maintain files on very prominent people -- presidents, prime ministers, and movie stars -- that are ready to go at a moment's notice, just adding the subject's date, place, and cause of death.

 Lesser known individuals? Let's just say the lack of preparation may show through the final product.

Take, for instance, today's printed Washington Post obit (attributed to the Baltimore Sun) of economist and historian George W. Hilton, who was an expert on transportation. These two paragraphs will do:
Dr. Hilton’s first article in Trains magazine on the Tennessee Central Railroad was published in 1946, and in the intervening years, he wrote more than 25 articles for the magazine.
Dr. Hilton, who contributed more than 25 articles to Trains magazine over the decades, also wrote widely on topics that included British soccer, Gilbert & Sullivan, Sherlock Holmes and theater organs. He also had edited a newsletter for collectors of breweriana.
Either Dr. Hilton wrote 50 articles for two different magazines named "Trains" or some editor fell asleep at the composing desk.

For the record, the Baltimore Sun obituary, written by Frederick N. Rasmussen and slightly longer than what appears in the Post, does not contain the repetitive reference to Hilton's contributions to Trains magazine.

That makes the Post's error even more puzzling and unacceptable.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Voting in an election that never happened


A factual error crept its way into an odd letter in the Charlottesville Daily Progress today, in which the writer remembers voting in an election that never happened.

 The letter, submitted by Albemarle County resident Hubert Hawkins, makes an argument about retaining Virginia's tradition of open primary elections, in which any voter, regardless of party affiliation, can participate in either the Democratic or Republican party's primaries for nominating candidates for the general election. (Virginia voters do not register by political party, so "party affiliation" is determined by the voter's own individual preference and observations of primary voting patterns and recorded financial contributions to candidates and party committees.)

Mr. Hawkins tries to undergird his point by reminiscing about the only time he crossed party lines to vote in a Republican primary:
Years ago when Oliver North opposed John Warner in the Republican primary, I was a Democrat who never sought to meddle in Republican elections. But I knew that my senator was going to be a Republican, no matter who won the party’s primary, because my party had no competitive candidate. So I voted in the Republican primary, fearful of what outcome might ensue from the victory of such a controversial character as North.
I have never regretted my vote, and I have always been grateful that Virginia law allows all voters to participate realistically in the future of the state and nation without restrictions on what party they may have belonged to.
The problem with that example? Oliver North never challenged John Warner for the Republican Party of Virginia's nomination for the U.S. Senate, in a primary or through any other method.

John Warner, Larry Sabato, Mark Warner
John Warner ran unopposed for the GOP nomination in 1990, and he had no Democratic opponent in the November election. Nancy Spannaus, a devotee of political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche, was the only other candidate on the ballot that year. Warner beat Spannaus by sweeping every county and city and earning 80.9 percent of the vote.  The absence of a Democratic general election candidate that year may be what Mr. Hawkins is trying to recall in his letter to the editor.

 In 1994, Oliver North sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate and winning it in a convention against former Reagan administration official James C. Miller III. There was no primary election that year, and John Warner was not on the ballot. North went on to lose the general election to incumbent Democrat Chuck Robb in a three-way race that also included independent J. Marshall Coleman. That election was the subject of a popular documentary film, A Perfect Candidate.

 In 1996, Jim Miller challenged John Warner for the nomination in a primary election but Warner won and went on to face Democrat Mark Warner in the general election.

After serving one term as Virginia''s governor, Mark Warner eventually won John Warner's U.S. Senate seat in 2008, after John Warner decided to retire.  The two of them remain on friendly terms (as seen in this video from earlier this year) and, in fact, John Warner has endorsed Mark Warner's re-election bid this year.

Regardless of what one thinks about the merits of Mr. Hawkins' argument about open primaries, it's important that the person making that argument have his facts straight. For that matter, it is the responsibility of the newspaper's copy editors to ensure that such factual errors do not make their way into print.

It's easy enough to, as they say, "look it up."

(Adapted from a post to Rick Sincere News and Thoughts.)