John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A qualified endorsement of the press

George Chandler-Powell is a character, a surgeon, in P.D. James’s most recent novel, The Private Patient. At one point Mr. Chandler-Powell (British surgeons do not call themselves “doctor”) expresses views about the press:

“[F]rankly, I wouldn’t lift a finger to muzzle the popular press. When you consider the machinations and deviousness of governments, we need some organisation strong enough to shout occasionally. I used to believe that I lived in a free country. Now I have to accept that I don’t. But at least we have a free press, and I’m willing to put up with a certain amount of vulgarity, popularisation, sentimentality and even misrepresentation to ensure it remains free.”


  1. Freedom of the press worldwide, country by country, from 2002 to 2008, from Freedom House, a U.S. government funded but independent organization.

  2. Brilliant.

    Happy Labor Day weekend!

  3. I subscribe to the Post and the Sun but read the NY Times online. Of the three, the press that's free to me is the Times. It's ironic: computers are giving us free press while so eviserating newspapers that soon what's free in them may seem overpriced. At least a fictional character values newspapers.

    A.J. Liebling famously wrote, "Freedom of the Press belongs to those who own one." That old system works if owners care about newspapers and are not buried in debt. It seems only yesterday that printing a monopoly newspaper was the next best thing to printing money. It seems only yesterday that people with beating hearts owned newspapers, not corporations and, more recently, creditors.