I didn’t write this…not exactly

You might have noticed that I do a great deal of writing. Whether it’s the daily blogging, the articles for the Las Vegas Business Press, Casino Connection, and elsewhere, or the books, writing is something that is very important to me, both professionally and because I like to do it.

Since it means so much to me, I try to keep minimum standards in the quality of my prose. I’m not saying that everything I write is flawless, but it generally gets the job done and isn’t egregiously bad. You’ll notice typos in blog posts here, but that’s a failure in execution, not purpose. Generally, I strive to write well.

So imagine my surprise when this quote in the Jewish Times of Southern New Jersey, attributed to me, came into my mailbox:

Where would Atlantic City be if casino gambling wasn't authorized in 1976? Probably AC would be a ramshackle fishing village and a shallow summer retreat. Native David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, said in a recent column he wrote for the Casino Connection, "AC received a Second Chance with gaming, freeing the town from years of decline.The days before the rolling of the dice and the slot machine, were dark days but some residents didn't give up hope," wrote Schwartz, "since without gaming, they argued, the city could not reverse its decline. While casino revenues are down, gamblers are still coming here, in smaller numbers and some monies are coming in." It's still an uphill battle for the town but optimism has not been lost

Honorable ‘Menschen’ | www.jewishtimes-sj.com | Jewish Times of Southern New Jersey.

I honestly couldn’t believe what I read there. Did I really pen something that dreadful? With a sinking heart, I checked out the original Casino Connection article, Second Chances, which was about the 1976 gaming referendum:

The city had fallen far from its former standing as the “world’s playground.” Jobs had disappeared, infrastructure was decaying, and tourism had dwindled. In 1968, at a testimonial for 500 Club owner Paul “Skinny” D’Amato, city power brokers first discussed casino gambling as a cure for the city’s ills. Within six years, they managed to get a measure on the New Jersey ballot.

The 1974 referendum would have allowed casinos to open anywhere in the state after a local vote. But gambling opponents, including clergymen, advised their constituents to vote no, and the referendum failed.

These were dark days, but some didn’t give up hope. A small citizen contingent pressed for casinos. Without gambling, they argued, the city could not reverse its decline. Some considered them impractical dreamers, but they refused to take no for an answer.
Second Chances

I was profoundly relieved that I hadn’t actually written a sentence like, “The days before the rolling of the dice and the slot machine, were dark days but some residents didn’;t give up hope, since without gaming, they argued, the city could not reverse its decline.”

Why am I writing about this? It’s mostly defensive. I don’t want one of my students who I’ve upbraided for poor writing coming back at me with, “Yeah, but at least I didn’t write about ‘the rolling of the dice and the slot machine.'” It’s also professional pride. I happen to still know many people in South Jersey, and I’d hate for something like that to go out there uncorrected.

Usually, when I get mis-quoted, the journalist makes me sound better than I really do: they’ll clean up something like, “oh well you know the uh casino industry, many times in the past, like 1978-82 or 1991-1992, they’ve had hard times, you know” into: “The casino industry, Schwartz claims, ‘has been through hard times before, particularly in 1978-82 and 1991-92.'”

There’s another issue here: I never sounded an optimistic note about “some monies coming in.” I ended the piece on my usual optimistic, slightly ambiguous note, as I said that without gaming, “it’s a fair bet none of us would be where we are today.” That’s true, because I can say with absolute confidence that if Atlantic City didn’t get casinos, there is no way I’d have decided to study gambling.

I ordinarily wouldn’t belabor the point so much, but again, it’s all about professionalism. I partially earn a living through my writing, and I can’t have anything that absolutely sub-standard being ascribed to me without protest. While you’re going to find some clunkers in the thousands of pages worth of stuff I’ve written over the last ten years, you won’t (I hope) find anything that as stupidly awful as that quote up there. Going through the few sentences I really did write, I can name at least five revisions I’d make if I had another shot at it. But at least it’s not moronic.

Much ado about nothing, I’m sure, I’m going to use this in class for a while, so at the very least this post has some real pedagogical value.

7 thoughts on “I didn’t write this…not exactly”

  1. I think though doth protest too much! Yes, I’ve been paid for my writing, and quoted and such, but I try not to take it all too seriously. When working with journalists, it is pointless to bemoan misquotes and twisted intentions. Journalists are (if they are lucky) PAID to write, so naturally, they will overwork their contributor’s words, often to the point of misinformation and even bad grammar. How else could they justify a paycheck — if they don’t wrestle a little with their sources and Funk & Wagnall’s? Every time I’ve protested, it only got the mistake more exposure, like a headline in the NYTimes. Writers realize other writers are like middlemen in a game of “chinese whispers” — the end results rarely matches the original one, and sometimes the intent is lost completely.

  2. When I started writing this, I knew I’d get a comment like that. If you are a serious writer and you don’t have a problem with someone attributing a literary atrocity like the one above to your name, I don’t know what to tell you.

    I wouldn’t have a problem if my spoken words were misquoted or taken out of context, but something I’d written was turned into sludge. How does a writer mess up cutting and pasting? Quite easily, apparently.

    Plus, I just wanted an excuse to post what I think might be one of the worst-written sentences I’ve ever seen.

    Yes, I realize that I’ve given the piece far more exposure than it would have gotten but I think that the whole thing is funny. Someone actually thought, “the rolling of the dice and the slot machine, now that’s good English.” That makes me laugh.

  3. This is the Jewish Times of Southern New Jersey, for Chrissakes!!! Even the NYTimes admits to letting atrocious English slip through the editorial cracks and into their newspaper daily. Yes, it is funny, but it wouldn’t have even been noticed, unless you pointed it out. Remember, that when writing NONFICTION, or Journalism you are exploiting someone else’s experience or creation. So if someone twists your words — remember — they weren’t entirely yours to begin with! You weren’t the first to think that gambling was a windfall for N.J. and you certainly won’t be the last. Writers are well served to keep their egos in check, and roll with the punches. A wise man once said “Don’t read your press, weigh it.” Which is another way of saying there is no such thing as bad press. I was thrilled to be featured in the Washington Post, Time magazine, the LA Times, the NY Times, and the NORTH KOREA Times in the same week!!! I really think I got a bigger kick out of being in the NORTH KOREA Times than any other publication. You should be happy to be an “Honorable MENSCHEN” — mazel tov!

    P.S. I may be wrong, but being a “Serious Writer” isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Cashing royalty checks and greeting the folks standing in line to get my autograph is a whole lot of fun too. Don’t do your students a disservice by taking all the creative merriment and mirth out of the process. Some writers kinda fall into it like I did, and do just fine. Hey, some genius invented spell and grammar check for a reason!

  4. P.P.S – What the hell is “wasn't” “didn't” and “It's” anyways? I guess you proved your point that cutting and pasting is not as easy as it seems, huh?

  5. Seeing as the comment floodgates seem to have been opened:

    More than nine-tenths of all literate men and women certainly read nothing but newspapers, and consequently model their orthography, grammar, and style almost exclusively on them and even, in their simplicity, regard the murdering of language which goes on in them as brevity of expression, elegant facility and ingenious innovation; indeed, young people of the unlearned professions in general regard the newspaper as an authority simply because it is printed. For this reason, the state should, in all seriousness, take measures to ensure that newspapers are altogether free of linguistic errors. A censor should be instituted who, instead of receiving a salary, should receive one gold coin for every mangled or stylistically objectionable word, error of grammar or syntax, or misemployed preposition he finds in them, and three gold coins for every instance of sheer impudent mockery of all style and grammar, with double the sum for any repetition–the amounts to be defrayed by the perpetrators.
    Or is language perhaps anyone’s game, a trifle not worthy of that protection of law which even a dunghill enjoys?
    Miserable philistines!
    What in the world is to become of language if every scribbler and newspaper writer is granted discretionary power to do with it whatever his caprice and folly suggest?

    Diese Menschen haben keine Urtheilskraft!

    ~ Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena §283, “On Authorship and Style”

  6. CC-I think that maybe the humor in the original post didn’t come through as well as I thought it should. I intended it as a light-hearted romp through the foibles of small-town journalism, but apparently you read something else entirely into it–more angst, certainly, that I wanted to put into it. So there’s your mirth and merriment. You’ve certainly reminded me of a very important lesson–that on the Internet, sarcasm doesn’t come across as well as it does in person. If we were sitting around talking about this, you might have laughed with me and then quickly gone on to more weighty matters. I’m not trying to say that my writing is some kind of pure, pristine text–sure, half the fun is getting it dirty. What I’m trying to say is wow, even I’m not that bad. Also, as this thread proves, the laugh is more often than not at the writer’s expense. And that’s OK.

    As far as weighing press goes, maybe that’s true. I think the biggest kick I got out of a press mention was a story in a Texas paper where I said that there might be an alien base under the Strip, just because it wasn’t the usual revenues…growth…blah blah blah thing, which gets kind of tiring. Mainly I check my Google news alerts to make sure that I didn’t get quoted as saying something that’s going to earn me an angry phone call (which is never fun, no matter who its from).

    The final irony, IMHO, is that three apparently literate adults have been sparked to such a debate, quoting even 19th century German philosophers, by a poorly-written article in the Jewish Times of Southern New Jersey. Now that’s so ridiculous it can’t be anything but funny.

    Coming Monday: a substantive post on a new casino property (unless the opening gets pushed back) that hopefully will spark this much discussion!

  7. Glad you see the humor in it all, I’ve learned my lesson . . . it is like getting pissed off in a casino, a complete exercise in futility. What? . . . you’re losing your money? . . . and you can’t get a drink? . . . and they ran out of mustard in the Deli? That just happened to ME last NIGHT!!! Yep, as usual, the joke was on me . . . until the gal in the Deli went out of her way to find me a nearly empty bottle of mustard, and my faith in humanity was restored. I couldn’t move faster to get the hell out of Dodge with my comped Burger & Fries special, complete with the golden elixir that brightens my sandwiches. I got another story about the ineptitude of the New York Times writers. I hate to harp on all this, but the NYTimes is usually held in fairly high regard, and on more than one occasion I was completely shocked by their unprofessionalism. Here goes — I was playing phone tag with a writer that was trying to interview me. I got a message from him on my voicemail that consisted of 15 minutes of his baby crying. I’m not kidding. My best guess was that he called me and got distracted by his kid, or something — maybe he sat on his phone, and it redialed. I nearly ditched the whole deal right then and there, but realized that this guy needed a break. Of course, I ended up writing the article for him . . . he got paid, and I got exposure? Cest ‘la vie.

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