White House Communication Is Doubly Unfortunate

So, no. I don’t necessarily edit what I scribble on the bathroom wall they call the internet. However, I do try to write with some polish, some attention to crafting language that is both informative, readable, and, on the odd occasion, entertaining. I know how much effort goes into this top-of-the-tongue, tip-of-the-brain blather, and I know how much more goes into the work I actually publish.

It’s this appreciation for the craft and work of writing that makes me amused at things like this scene from The West Wing:



Note that they are talking about how fantastic NASA is at naming things … and then the spacecraft with no telescope is going to the planet Mars, not even a moon of Jupiter, is named after Galileo. I’d give them a pass if the fictional spacecraft were pioneering some region of Mars named “The Calculus”, but no. Funny stuff. I’ve always wondered if that was an intentional in joke, and the uncertainty makes it that much funnier.

But there’s more than that. The first 42 seconds of the clip focus on how amazingly awesome is the name Galileo 5, but immediately after that,  Sam Seaborn decides the text of the NASA public affairs office text needs a bit of editing. Curiously the writers of The West Wing portray the professional writers in their fictional White House as linguistic superheroes. The NASA public affairs staffer protests that someone as “lowly” as Seaborn would presume to make changes to the text without consulting the president, but then everything falls apart when Martin Sheen’s president arrives and immediately notices flaws that are simply intolerable in language representing a US president.

So, okay. More in-jokes. But really, the writers of The West Wing did include people who worked in White House communications. They knew whereof they scripted. Drafting the words that will be attributed to the president and/or will be used around the world to represent the thoughts, opinions, and positions of a US president is serious business. You can’t just run around using “live” twice in the first two sentences of a statement like American scientists just cracked the technology.

Of course, if some white guy had just won the most recent Fields Medal for creating the entirely new mathematical discipline of “Statistics and Probability”, then that might just explain this release from our real-life White House Office of Communications:

Due to an unfortunate change in President Trump’s schedule, we will need to unfortunately postpone the previously scheduled rally in Cedar Rapids…

Well, I suppose Trump employs professional writers, if we broaden the definition to those who can spell.

Yes, yes, I know: in this White House there is much more to appall, and more seriously appall, any thinking person than merely the incapacities of the communication team.

But … writer!

There will never be a time when I’m not traumatized by this president, will there?


  1. Andrew Dalke says

    When I was a kid I learned that the correct phrase was “lift off”, not “blast off”. Here it’s used in the launch of STS 34, carrying the Galileo spacecraft bound for Jupiter. https://youtu.be/ZvwWwXopoPw?t=2000 . It was a bit jarring to hear “blast off” in the clip, and I hoped it was a set up for the NASA writer to point it out. It’s the sort of shibboleth President Bartlet would care about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *