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Dirty Language

(AP / CBS)
Deborah Howell, the Washington Post's ombudsman (ombudswoman?), came down from Mount Sinai with a new commandment last week:

Thou Shalt Not Tweak.

Howell was informed that a Post sports writer had made some adjustments to a Redskins player's quote to make it grammatically correct. Her take?

My view: Quotes should not be changed. If coaches or athletes are routinely "cleaned up," that should stop. Simply put, quotes should be and sound authentic. And The Post needs to set this particular record straight... The rough draft of history is still history.
I'm journalistically agnostic about quote-cleansing. Who among us hasn't ever parsed a verb incorrectly? Isn't a journalist's first duty to convey how the world is, rather than amend it? How many "like"s or "uhm"s or "yeah"s do we toss into a sentence that, when transcribed, make us sound like Jeff Spicoli? Isn't this the equivalent of a photographer touching up a photo? I can see it both ways.(Don't envy me my cognitive dissonance.)

But apparently the Washington Post has fallen in line with Howell's edict. My first sight of this was in the initial offender – the Washington Post sports page – which scored an interview with Redskins player Sean Taylor last week. From his first quote, you could tell the sports guys had changed their ways.

It's almost like we play a kid's game for a king's ransom, and if you don't take it seriously enough, one day you're going to say, 'Oh, I could have did this, or I could have did that.'
Then on Saturday's front page, the Post covered the Utah mine tragedy. The reporter, Karl Vick, interviewed the girlfriend of a rescue worker who had died attempting to save the trapped miners. Her quote?
"He worked with those men that's trapped right now for about 3 1/2 years," said Christina Shumway, the miner's girlfriend. "Then, after the collapse, he made it a point to go in and get his friends out."
So here's a word of warning to Washington Post readers: If you want to be able to get through the paper nowadays, you're going to need to tuck away that inner English teacher. It may not be easy to read, but it'll be real.
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