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Hunter: Forget Russians. Check the headline writers

President Trump and his circle of sycophants are pretty sure Robert Mueller is out to get them. I really don’t want to aid them in their march toward injustice, but I do think that Mueller is overlooking an obvious, non-Russian, cohort in the conspiracy to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House: copy editors.

You know the type — ink-stained wretches wearing green eyeshades and short-sleeved dress shirts, ties askew, cigarettes dangling from their lips, regularly cranky. They hunker over their typewriters like a hungry teenager over a plate of fries, blocking would-be observers from a clear view of their work. They are the last line of defense of the printed page and the master of the headline.

Ah, the headline — there you have it, the link to newspapers’ role in the grand conspiracy. If you thought newspapers seemed infatuated with Trump at the expense of Clinton, you may be onto something. Mueller could figure this out, too. All he has to do is understand The Count.

You’ll be familiar with The Count if you ever put out a school paper — and, yes, Mrs. Smith, we know you did, as you often remind us when you send us those clippings with questionable grammar circled in red. For the rest of you, here it is in a nutshell:

  • With the exception of those listed below, lower-case letters of the alphabet and spaces between words count as 1.
  • The lower-case letters i, j, l and t count as one-half, as does punctuation such as a comma or semicolon.
  • The lower-case letters m and w count as 1½.
  • For any letter that’s upper-case, add one-half, i.e., a P counts as 1½, a W counts as 2.

OK, now imagine that you’re writing a one-column-wide headline at the top of Page 1. Should you use “Trump” (5½ count) or “Clinton” (6 count)? It’s a close call, but the edge goes to the 5½ man. Especially if you think you might fit another word on the line.

If you think copy editors aren’t really that interested in using shorter words, consider the headlines “Cops nab man” instead of “Police officers arrest a fugitive wanted for embezzlement” or “Solons back pot plan,” instead of “Legislators approve a marijuana measure.” Which fits and which doesn’t?

Copy editors everywhere are, even as you read this, rising in defense of their storied profession. And no doubt combing this column for an ahah! grammar error. (Wait, was that one?)

To be sure, I probably unfairly stereotyped them above. They’re ink-stained only if a pen leaks; they no longer wear green eyeshades, their short-sleeved shirts are more apt to be Hawaiian or T-shirts; no one wears a tie anymore; and smoking was banned from the office years ago. They have state-of-the-art computers with multiple screens. They’re not cranky anym... well, six out of seven ain’t bad. (Dear Mrs. Smith, I meant to do that, really.)

They also have a tough job, trying to come up with witty, accurate, compelling and, yes, short-word headlines as deadline approaches, long after the rest of us have gone to bed. So we should cut them some slack for words like “nab,” “set” ... and even “confab.”

But that doesn’t mean there’s no conspiracy. There are clearly precedents — and a notable one right here in Oregon. Remember when Willamette Week and The Oregonian newspapers in Portland dug up the dirt on John Kitzhaber that eventually caused the four-term governor to resign?

And who replaced Kitzhaber (8 count)? Brown (6 count).

Bob Mueller, are you counting?

Bob Hunter is associate editor of the Mail Tribune.

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