Monday, November 09, 2009

Sometimes it really isn't the the thought that counts

There are those who are wondering why the press is making such a big deal about Gordon Brown's error strewn letter of condolence to the mother of a dead soldier. One angle worth considering this: it's something that is drummed into all journalists very early on (in some cases by bitter experience)

Getting someone's name wrong is one of the worst errors you can commit.

Put it this way, I know people who've been threatened with the sack for less; people understandably take that sort of thing very personally because it is, well, personal. More generally, it does look - at the very least - somewhat graceless and unempathetic to send such a shocking scrawl as a letter of condolence. (Realising you've misspelled the name, scrawling it out and then carrying on with the letter is thoughtlessness taken to a quite breathtaking level).

Still, given that Brown will be getting his P45 in a few months anyway, it would be best all round to accept this a dreadful, albeit unintentional blunder. That Brown somehow managed to compound the inadvertent insult by the more calculated refusal to apologise is sadly all to typical.

As someone with a fair amount of experience in editing other people's work, there's a rather obvious comment I could make about the importance here of getting other pairs of eyes to look over what's been written. I'm not entirely sure why this isn't the case at Number 10. I might, however, observe that it is always the prima donnas, louts, ego maniacs and bullies who kick up the most almighty fuss if anyone dares alter a single character they have written, and who take even the gentlest correction as a personal slight, that generally produce the most dangerous errors. I have no idea whether or not this applies in this instant.

UPDATE: What was it I was saying about getting names wrong? I'm told The Sun website's gone and done it. (No idea if it's genuine). Blood on the carpet at Wapping, I fear. (via Harry's Place).

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Blogger Vincent said...

With handwriting like that the whole project is doomed and if I were his personal-letter-adviser I would have put my foot down and insisted on it being typed. Then it would have a dignity worthy of keeping for posterity; and the integrity that would speak volumes: "The Prime Minister is busy with affairs of state but still he found the time to sign a letter of condolence," the grandchildren would say, instead of "That Gordon Brown had nothing to do but make fake gestures that backfired."

6:49 am  
Blogger bill said...

Quite true, Vincent. The problem appears to be that there was no one able advise Brown that, erm, actually Prime Minister, you've got her name wrong too.

There's also an interesting argument from Robert Crampton in the Times today, that whereas the middle classes (of which Brown has always been a member) a hand-written note has more authenticity; for the working classes it's what you'd scribble to the milkman.

11:14 am  
Blogger Vincent said...

Yes, but Robert C got it wrong about the Cenotaph ceremony, lower down in his piece. Precedence in wreath-laying, and personal bearing, has nothing to do with commitment to democracy.

The symbolism is esential and irreplaceable. The soldier doesn't die for Gordon Brown and his shifty crew but for his country, whose abstraction is represented by the reigning monarch, who bears no responsibility for the inadequacies of helicopter-blades.

It is therefore constitutionally correct for the soldier to die proudly for his Queen, whilst his grieving mother may without treason blame the Prime Minister (rather than the enemy) for her son's death.

I know this sounds old-fashioned, as if from the mouth of Norman St-John Stevas, but we haven't replaced the system yet.

11:35 am  

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