LOGAN, Utah—In a breath-taking display of annual season incompetence, the boneheaded staff at St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose have apparently permitted “The WORD,” a recidivist journalistic gadfly, to escape the extremely low-security sanitarium on the northern California coast.
A St. Mumbles spokeswoman said the WORD normally is confined in a padded maximum citation cubicle, but had somehow been left in a wheelchair on a rocky crag overlooking the Pacific last night. An attendant was found tongue-tied nearby.
Apparently the attendant had passed out after hours of listening to the WORD’s quotations on free expression.
“When he started on the 19th set of Federalist Papers, alternating with Jerry Seinfeld, I was as dumb as a Wikipedia post,” the rueful staff member confessed, clutching his head.
Contacted in his crypt, former President Thomas Jefferson rescinded his famous edict—“No government ought to be without censors & where the press is free, no one ever will”—saying, “I take it back. If the WORD is this generation’s version of truth and wisdom, then we deserve Rush Limbaugh and ‘Dancing With the Stars.’”
Observers noted that the timing couldn’t be worse. “In the midst of an already ridiculous presidential election campaign,” said one academic scholar who begged to be identified so that she could count this as a “vita hit” in her promotion file, “the last thing we need is more noise in the channel to further obfuscate the social and political discourse.”
No one understood what that meant, and this reporter declined to give her name recognition.
From the White House, Obama spokesman Jay Carney responded this way: “Blah, blah, blah, blah. And blah.” A spokesman for the Romney campaign, taking a page from the lofty GOP primary season, observed, “Ooops.”
So here we go, boys and girls. Brace yourselves. As usual, we launch this season with the ever-useful wisdom of the genial former colonial Royal High Pontentate of the Virginia Colony, whose high regard for both education and the press rings with an increasingly popular fervor today. Enjoy!
TODAY’S WORD ON JOURNALISM—The Perennial Season Opener
“I thank God we have no free schools or printing, and I hope that we shall not have these for a hundred years. For learning has brought disobediences and heresy and sects into the world; and printing has divulged them and libels against the government. God keep us from both.”
—Sir William Berkeley
Governor, Virginia Colony, 1671
• • •
Back-story: The WORD was originally concocted (“conceived” is, I think, altogether too grand) as a way to get journalism students to pay attention to their email. Strange as it may sound, email was a new and unpleasant disturbance of the general peace back in 1995, and many students did not then spend 16 hours a day online. As a professor hoping to get and keep their attention while also instructing them, my object was that the WORD would give them something to think about before class. Hope, like the WORD, springs eternal.
I think it’s fair to say that this strategy was a dismal failure. Most of my students continue to ignore their daily WORDs and gaily accept point reductions on their quizzes for not knowing the day's wordish wisdom from philosophers ranging from Soren Kierkegaard to Brian Williams to Lisa Simpson.
But the WORD has become rather frighteningly popular with non-students—purported grown-ups, mostly, who actually ask to be afflicted or who send email addresses of unsuspecting friends/colleagues/parents/bosses, so that they might be victimized as well.
When the WORD was trundled by those nice white-jacketed men into St. Mumbles last spring, about 1,800 (mostly volunteer) victims subscribed to the direct email WORD list. More got the WORD by checking the website, whence it was linked and Tweeted and forwarded like a pox to many more unsuspecting victims by so-called “friends.”
* * * * *
TODAY'S WORD ON JOURNALISM is a free “service” sent to the 2,000 or so misguided volunteer subscribers around the planet. If you have recovered from whatever led you to subscribe and don’t want it anymore, send “unsubscribe.” Or if you want to afflict someone else, send me the email address and watch the fun begin. (Disclaimer: While I just quote ’em, I don't necessarily endorse ’em. All, in theory, contain at least a kernel of insight. But don’t shoot the messenger.)
Ted Pease, Professor of Interesting Stuff
Utah State University, Logan, Utah
To receive Today's Word on Journalism, send "subscribe" to email@example.com
“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” —Tom Stoppard