Should Slate Lay Off Bush Already?

By Neal Comment

Last week at the linguistics blog Language Log, Mark Liberman raised a compelling criticism of Bushisms, the Slate feature created by Jacob Weisberg to call attention to what the liberal intelligentsia views as some of George W. Bush’s more dim-witted utterances. Weisberg was able to turn all those web pages into a real book as early as 2001; now he’s got a whole string of books as well as other ancillary products. There’s just one problem, says Liberman: The column’s been stretched thin for years, including a lot of alleged malapropisms that are actually fairly common usage in certain parts of the country (notably the south). Liberman delves into one such recent case, involving the phrase “let’s dont,” then steps up to the broad theme:

“The individual cases are just like any disagreement over usage: we argue over what linguistic norms really are, what they should be, and why. But there’s a broader pattern here, and it’s not just that many people dislike President George W. Bush and are happy to find a linguistic focus for their feelings. That’s the demand side of the industry, and it’s obvious. However, there’s something to say about the supply side as well: the Bushisms industry apparently accounts for a significant portion of Jacob Weisberg’s income, and he’s the editor of Slate, who gets to decide which ‘Bushisms’ to print and how often to print them.”

“Isn’t there something wrong when a magazine editor, whose job is making judgments about what is and is not worthy of publication, makes much of his income from re-publication of collections of a feature whose instances are so often so spectacularly superfluous?” Liberman asks. I tried emailing Weisberg to solicit a defense of the column and clarify some of the financial issues (like Liberman’s guess that the royalties from all that Bush-mocking are “in the same range as what he makes at his day job”), but a week’s gone by with no answer.