On a do-over, I’d skip the sex

Posted by Cindi Ross Scoppe on April 17, 2014 

ITALY POLITICS 2

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JAMES HILL — NYT

I didn’t get a lot done on Wednesday, what with taking all the phone calls and responding to emails from people who just loved, loved, loved my column about the five attempts by House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s friends to intimidate the attorney general or quash a Grand Jury investigation.

I also heard from three critics, all of whom focused on one thing: my reference to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. I wasn’t surprised by that criticism — it certainly was harsh — but I was disappointed that at least a few people seemed to have missed what the point of that reference was.

As I responded to my first critic:

I made a deliberate point not to include that comparison in the headline, either in print or online, or in what I’ve tweeted about it, because I (think) that if all you say is that Mr. Harrell is like Mr. Berlusconi, then that IS irresponsible.

My point was that trying to change laws and otherwise use your power as a top government official to get yourself out of criminal problems is the same.

I was trying to be very careful not to suggest that the crimes Mr. Harrell is alleged to have committed come anywhere near the level or scope of Mr. Berlusconi. If the column gave the impression that I WAS suggesting that, then it did not do what I intended for it to do, and I apologize.

The second critic just called my boss and said he refused to even read the column because he thought I was being sensationalistic in an effort to con him into reading it. Well, OK. (If you want an example of being sensationalistic to con people into reading, check out the headline of this post.)

But the third one was much more focused: You compared the speaker to a pedophile, he said. It’s right there in the first paragraph, and then you come back to it in the second paragraph, like you wanted to make sure no one missed the point.

The more he kept repeating the word “pedophile,” the more I thought: If I had this to do over, I wouldn’t have mentioned Mr. Berlusconi’s sex crime. At best the reference to sex is a distraction. A distraction that a lot of people have a hard time getting past.

I should have anticipated that. I mean, half of the population gets distracted by sex practically every minute of their lives, without any provocation, right?

At worst, if people did read that reference the way this reader did, they got an impression that I did not intend to give.

And anytime I give an impression I did not intend to give, I have failed as a writer.

The column didn’t cross any lines; certainly I can justify the reference. But there are lots of things we can justify that, when given the chance to reflect, we would have done differently. And while I can’t do the column over, we do have this blog now, so I thought it was worth talking about.

So … if you haven’t read the column yet, just pretend the part about Mr. Berlusconi’s sex life isn’t in there, and focus instead on his money crimes and, more to the point, the way he kept using his position of power to manipulate the government to keep himself out of legal trouble.

For that matter, just skip the first five paragraphs altogether and go straight into the story of what’s going on here in South Carolina. Which of course is the point.

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