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 jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Independence of thought, too

On this date in 1776, the Continental Congress effectively chose independence. July 4 as the date on which the assembly formally adopted Jefferson’s great Declaration got to be the holiday. But it was on July 2, which John Adams thought at the time would be the commemorated date, that delegates voted approval of Richard Henry Lee’s resolution:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

Not to pull you away from your barbecue and the fireworks, but I have a suggestion for your commemoration of our national independence. Take some steps toward intellectual independence.

Presumably in response to my post “The Republic of Moronia,” Mike Pope has recommended a look at Politifact.com, a Web site that examines the accuracy of statements by officials and other public figures. If you want to check on how well President Obama has kept his many promises, or the peculiar statements to which Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is given, PolitiFact will provide many moments of satisfaction.

You are not subject to a remote and unsympathetic sovereign, nor to an unrepresentative legislative body (unless you live in the District of Columbia). Neither should you be subject in the formation of your political opinions — indeed, your view of reality — to the half-truths and outright falsehoods with which you are bombarded daily. It is your job as a citizen not to be gulled by the self-serving misrepresentations of elected officials or the distortions and fantasies retailed by charlatans on the air, in print, and over the Internet.

Mr. Madison and Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Hamilton, however vigorously they disagreed on other matters, were united on this point: They wanted you to be an informed and independent thinker, because on your ability to make informed and responsible choices rests the fate of the republic they created. As Mr. Franklin said at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, you have a republic — if you can keep it.

Pointing the finger

Please click over to Regret the Error, where you will find a short article, “You Don’t Say: Fixing the Blame,” about the issue of assigning responsibility for errors in articles. It explains why I find a writer’s “It’s not my mistake, but it’s got my byline on it” less than compelling.

Besides, it’s not polite to point.