Precinct 333

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Was This REALLY Necessary?

I can't understand why the following made its way into Randy Cohen's column on ethics in the Houston Chronicle -- which comes from the New York Times. After all, the question was about the ethics of releasing a pet gerbil into the wild (a truly worthy use of Chronicle editorial space, don't you think?).
"Gerbils are Mongolian desert rats," Dr. Rebecca Campbell, a veterinarian in Manhattan, told me. Unless you plan not only to re-educate your pet but fly to Mongolia to release it, you may not set it free. (Incidentally, if there's a prize for pet marketing, I'd like to nominate whoever changed "Mongolian desert rat" to "gerbil." That's even better than "compassionate conservative.")

Excuse me! Where did that come from? What purpose does it serve in the discussion of the topic at hand? Why didn't some editor strike it out as irrelevant and inflammatory? Would a statement such as, for example, "That's even better than calling racial discrimination "affirmative action," have made it into the column?

If Cohen wants to write political commentary, so be it. But let him label it as such -- not slip it into columns surreptitiously.

UPDATE: Randy Cohen Responds

Thanks for the note, but I believe you’ve misread me. It wasn’t
conservatives but deceptive nomenclature that I was denigrating. In my
view, the terms I compared were devised in pursuit of advertising and
promotion, not accuracy and clarity, an unfortunate use of language
regardless of one’s politics.

But it does seem that you take a narrower view of these things than I
do, prescribing sort of "free speach zones" where particular topics may
be addressed. I think it entirely apt in a column on ethics, or most
anything else, to refer to the great events of the day.


I have to admire Randy Cohen for responding. It would have been easy for him to ignore one more email from a disgruntled reader.

I'll accept at face value what his statement of what his goal was. I still, however, think that what he did was drop a little piece of political bias into the middle of an otherwise unrelated column.

And no, I don't think that I am prescribing "free speech zones" for politics. I again agree that there should be more reference to the great events of the day. More political discussion is better. But a "drive-by shooting" like this doesn't really qualify, does it? In context, the reference still seems gratuitous and out of place. Do you really mena to tell me that, of all the marketting references you could have made, the best one (or only one you could think of) was the term used to describe the president in his first election campaign -- especially when we are only a month from election day?


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