I’ve held on to this very-yellowed strip of newsprint for more than a dozen years, hoping for a proper opportunity to pass it along. And today’s political climate seems just perfect for these excerpts from a 2005 column by William Safire, his last words before retiring after 33 years of writing for The New York Times. Here are his still-so-timely “Ten Rules for Reading a Political Column” …
1. Don’t fall for someone who uses a quote from a liberal opponent to make a conservative case, or vice versa.
2. Never look for the story in its headline or first sentence.
3. “Lede” is a bit of journalistic jargon used by columnists to impress. If it’s used, do not follow where it leads.
4. When something in print angers you, don’t answer with an abusive email. Its author will celebrate “getting you.”
5. Don’t fall for “circularity.” When a story starts and ends the same way, the writer has not reached any conclusion.
6. No column should have two subjects; the writer just didn’t decide what (s)he wanted to write about that day.
7. When writing is labeled “analysis,” ask “by whom.” And do the same when someone is called “respected.”
8. Resist columnists who show off with use of “intellectual” grammar (like unnecessary Latin); they should shove off instead.
9. Don’t be suckered by the unexpected — like a knuckleball slipped into a series of curveballs.
And here is Safire’s conclusion, No. 10: “Writing is as vibrant as political life itself, and as JFK said, ‘Life is unfair.’ So at this point, go back and reread Rules 1 and 5.”
Harriet Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.