I Hate Editors,|All Editors …

     “Napoleon once shot and killed a publisher. But he was aiming at an editor. His intentions were good.”
     Anyone who has ever had an editor will understand what Mark Twain meant.
     In his story, “Journalism in Tennessee,” Twain claimed that readers regularly dropped by to shoot at him when he edited a newspaper there. Twain also quoted from a few moronic editorials he claimed to have written, out of pure ignorance. I thought it was one of Twain’s weaker efforts – until I became a city editor.
     Then I realized it was all true.
     Now I shall say some more mean things about editors.
     Yet I am an editor.
     I edit most of the stories that appear in the main news column on this page.
     Any errors of fact or grammar that appear in that column are my fault – not the reporters’. No one trusts a reporter – least of all a good reporter. No, any errors on this page appear because I have not wrestled them to the ground and strangled them – or because I inserted them myself.
     A good editor should be like the Deists’ God: present everywhere, yet nowhere showing himself. But the proportion of good editors to bad ones is as the proportion of intelligent life to … let’s say, to be kind, voters in Texas.
     Mikhail Bulgakov had the line on editors. Bulgakov wrote one of the great satiric novels of the 20th century, “The Master and Margarita,” and one of the great novellas, “Heart of a Dog.” Neither was published in his lifetime. Nor was his short story collection, “Notes of a Country Doctor,” whose title story ends with the doctor shooting a Communist Party apparatchik in the mouth and fleeing through a window.
     No wonder they wouldn’t publish him.
     Bulgakov, who was a doctor, wrote: “I hate editors. All editors. I shall hate them until the day I die.”
     As I said, I am an editor. I am not writing this to deride myself: no, no – I have friends for that. I am writing it because of the emails I find myself sending day after day to Courthouse News reporters.
     A reporter may send me a 900-word piece on a complex, 79-page federal antitrust class action against giant corporations. Most of the piece will be fine. Yet I will write to that reporter, at 4:13 a.m. on a Monday: “Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to punctuate interior quotes?”
     I will follow this with a querulous disquisition on the difference between the phrases, “The complaint adds:” and “The complaint continues:”.
     My reporters must hate my guts.
     Here’s a joke Kurt Vonnegut told. A man in a restaurant said, “Waiter! There’s a needle in my soup.”
     And the waiter said, “I’m sorry, sir. That’s a typographical error. It should be a noodle.”
     OK, that’s not really an editor joke. Vonnegut probably was not capable of telling a good editor joke. He was one of those rarest of birds: a terrific writer who was also a nice guy.
     Name another great artist who was a nice guy. Besides Mozart. I can’t think of any.
     OK, here is my favorite joke about editors. I am telling it not just because it’s a good joke, but because if I tell it first, perhaps the Courthouse News reporters will forgive me. Or at least use a smaller caliber weapon.
     A newspaper editor, a reporter and a photographer were walking along a beach. The tide was out and it exposed a little brass lamp half-buried in the sand. The editor picked it up and brushed it off and – poof! – a genie appeared.
     “Masters!” the genie said, “You have released me from my prison! I shall grant each of you one wish.”
     “You’re kidding,” the reporter said, whipping out his Reporter’s Notebook and taking notes.
     “No, no – for reals,” the genie said.
     “OK,” the reporter said. “I want to be on a beautiful, deserted island in the South Pacific with a dozen gorgeous, willing women, all of us butt naked, with an endless supply of cold beer and gourmet food.”
     “Done,” the genie said. And – poof! – the reporter disappeared.
     The photographer said: “I want to be on top of the highest mountain in Antarctica, dressed warm, half an hour before sunrise on the nicest summer day of the year, with all my cameras and all my lenses and 200 rolls of film.”
     “Done,” the genie said. And – poof! – the photographer disappeared.
     The editor looked at his watch and said, “I want those guys back here in 15 minutes.”

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