Jun 082007

In a Reuters news item, David Alexander makes much of the misspellings in a newly found manuscript by Abraham Lincoln, written after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

“…A misspelling showed the rudimentary education of the 16th U.S. president, who was largely self-taught….”


“…Plante said in other writing Lincoln sometimes misspelled the word “literal” and sometimes spelled it correctly….”

Or maybe it’s Trevor Plante, the archivist who found the manuscript, who made much of it.

I wonder, though. Were these misspellings really the mark of a person with little formal education? Or were they pretty much typical of almost anyone at the time?

My impression, probably from reading books like Daniel Boorstin’s, “The Americans: The Colonial Experience” is that spelling took on an increasingly important role in American education throughout the 19th century. Noah Webster’s dictionary and spelling reform attempts helped get it going early in the century. But is it really the case that spelling would be such a big deal already by the 1860s?

I don’t have any manuscript transcripts in my office from that period, but I have some from the 1820s and 1830s. No, the 1830s are not the 1860s, but it’s something to look at. Ellen Whitney’s. In Ellen Whitney’s manuscript transcripts from the Black Hawk war there is a private letter from Lewis Cass dated Nov 30 1832 in which he writes, “I am allways happy to receive…”. Cass had been educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, which I presume was a cut above the log cabins where Lincoln went to school.

There are letters from Zachary Taylor that contain misspellings, but Taylor’s education probably was similar to Lincoln’s, so that doesn’t help much.

So far I haven’t found any misspellings in any of Gen. Winfield Scott’s letters. And there is a long letter from Cass to Scott with nary a spelling error. (I don’t count the occasional dropped letter in a word in a handwritten manuscript as a spelling error.)

On the other hand, other letters from people who presumably had a lesser education are full of spelling errors.

So maybe Plante is right. Maybe by the 1860s an educated person would consider it important to get the spelling right. I still don’t know for sure, but I certainly don’t have evidence to contradict what he said.

Edited formatting, 8-Jun-2007

Jun 062007

Bernard Shaw laments:

“Unfortunately, Fox News is the ratings leader . . . on the cable side of the business, and what Fox puts on the air is not news.”

What Fox does, he said, is “commentary, personal analysis.”

Calling himself “very straitlaced [and] very old-fashioned,” Shaw said: “When anchors are reporting the news, they should report the news and allow the viewers at home to decide what they think about issues.

Retired anchor Shaw laments effects of Fox on his beloved CNN

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. People have been complaining about the editorialization of the news for long before FOX news even existed, and for good reason. Why it’s only FOX that provokes these concerns makes one wonder just how oblivious these mainstream news people are.

Here’s a small example of what has been going on for decades and decades. These are all headlines for the same news:

  1. Rice lashes out at Chavez’s closure of popular TV station
  2. Rice Speaks Out on TV Shutdown
  3. Rice Protests Venezuelan TV Closure
  4. Rice Condemns Pulling of Venezuelan TV Station
  5. Rice, Venezuelan foreign minister spar over TV station closure
  6. Condoleezza Rice Concerned About Press Freedoms in Venezuela

If that isn’t personal commentary and editorializing, I don’t know what is. If I were Chavez, I’d prefer the first one. It makes Condoleeza Rice sound like she lost control, suggesting a raving maniac. If I were Condoleeza Rice, I’d prefer one of the others, perhaps the 3rd or 6th, because it makes her sound like a responsible human-rights activist.

It’s a relatively minor thing, but this sort of things has been going on forever. It’s not new with FOX. CNN didn’t get into it by apeing FOX.

Minor edit to clarify an antecedent, 6-Jun-2007

Jun 022007

Man-bites-dog vs Dog-bites-man. That’s one that the leftwing news media like to trot out to excuse themselves when they’re trying to cover up Democrat scandals or manufacture Republican ones. They need man-bites-dog stories for the front page, they tell us.

So here’s Charlie Gibson of ABC news explaining why he decided to lead with a dog-bites-man story and play down the man-bites-dog one. Jerry Falwell was controversial; therefore his story didn’t deserve coverage:

From the Washington Post, May 17:

“NEW YORK, May 16 — After word arrived Tuesday afternoon that Jerry Falwell had suffered a fatal heart attack, Charlie Gibson was determined not to lead his newscast with the preacher’s death.

“”It lends importance to a figure whose legacy contained a lot of positives and a lot of negatives,” says the ABC anchor, who was once a reporter in Falwell’s home base of Lynchburg, Va. “It venerates the subject to an extent that I didn’t think belonged there. He was a controversial figure.””

The parody page of The Weekly Standard (May 28) gets credit for bringing this item to our attention.

Formatting edited, 6-Jun-2007