Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield is a divisive figure, and readers who contact me have two very different ideas of how The Kansas City Star should cover him.
The retired financier, who has poured tens of millions of dollars into state political campaigns for conservative or libertarian causes, recently called Gov. Jay Nixon an “idiot” at a Heritage Foundation forum. He later said he regretted using the term.
“Why do you have to harp on him using one single word in an article in the paper?” asked one caller. “Can’t The Star ever find a liberal saying something in the heat of the moment and drive that into the ground?”
Another praised the story. Sinquefield “causes nothing but division and rifts among people,” he said. “I hope you do something to put him in his place.”
The bottom line is that Sinquefield has made himself a public figure, so his words and actions are fair game. I look for readers’ subjective opinions about when they think news coverage crosses a line — or doesn’t push it far enough.
A confession: I often violate one of The Associated Press’ style rules, which The Star is supposed to follow.
The style says flatly, “Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage.”
People who write to me use language that is becoming increasingly informal these days. Particularly when they’re typing on a tablet, phone or other touchscreen device, a fact of modern life is that many perfectly intelligent, literate people use shortcuts and abbreviations, or they make typographical errors they wouldn’t make in longhand or with a physical keyboard.
So when I’m quoting a reader in a column, blog post, or my regular Networking column in the 913 news magazine, I do indeed frequently correct an errant “it’s” to “its,” insert omitted articles, and correct misspellings.
I’m certain that most of those communicating with me aren’t professional writers, and one of my least-favorite rhetorical techniques is to mock people by exactingly quoting errors they’ve made.
That’s a digression en route to a question. Last week, an emailer asked about an altered quotation in a story on the front page June 4 about “pink slime,” the common and factually inaccurate descriptor given to the meat product known in the industry as “lean finely textured beef.”
The story quoted a statement from Price Chopper President Peter Ciacco with this wording: “Because our customers have continued to express concern about the product, we have chosen not to purchase any ground beef that includes (lean finely textured beef),”
“I understand that you do sometimes replace words for clarity or when a word used is offensive, but I think that unless it is offensive, the original quote should be included and then put the clarification if deemed necessary in parenthesis,” wrote my emailer.
“If Mr. Ciacco used the phrase ‘pink slime’ then it should not have been edited since the phrase had already been used elsewhere in the story.”
I agree wholeheartedly with the first part of what this reader wrote. However, the reporter tells me he didn’t use the parentheses for the phrase “pink slime.” Instead, Ciacco’s statement used “LFTB” for “lean finely textured beef.”
Because those initials aren’t commonly known among the general readership, I agree with this particular substitution.