Sentences columnists should never write

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

From David Broder this morning:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is incapable of dissembling, quickly made it clear that the withdrawal will begin -- not end -- that year, and only if battlefield conditions permit.

Incapable? Really? Seems pretty unlikely to me that we've ever had a Defense Secretary who is incapable of dissembling, or that we ever will.

I recently suggested -- in response to another Broder column -- that it might be time for the Washington Post to consider term limits for its columnists. The fact that Broder has become so enamored of -- or is it "chummy with"? -- government officials that he believes they are incapable of obscuring the truth is certainly an argument in favor of such a preposition.

That kind of blind faith no doubt contributes to the eventual need for sentences like this one, from Broder's December 28, 2003 column:

Democratic critics accuse me of "falling for" Colin Powell's arguments for intervention, which is correct[.]

And it also leads to passages like this one, from Broder's Washington Post colleague Richard Cohen:

The evidence [Colin Powell] presented to the United Nations-some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail-had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool-or, possibly, a Frenchman-could conclude otherwise.

The clincher, as it had to be, was not a single satellite photo or the intercept of one Iraqi official talking to another. And it was not, as it never could be, the assertion that some spy or Iraqi deserter had made this or that charge -- because, of course, who can prove any of that? It was the totality of the material and the fact that Powell himself had presented it. In this case, the messenger may have been more important than the message. [Emphasis added]

The Washington Post
David Broder, Richard Cohen
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