Off to New York this week for a break. Never been. I’ve travelled all over the US, including Hawaii, but nearly always in the west or south: Memphis, the Redneck Riviera, Route 66, Oregon, Pasadena. I’ve heard the late-night Santa Fe DJs fade into the static as you cross the desert to Roswell, but I’ve never seen Times Square. The eastern seaboard’s been flyover country to me. Can’t wait.
But my Americanophile reputation at work would have taken a serious dent if I’d ever come across this in copy, because I’d have missed it completely:
The clues have always been there. Senator Joseph McCarthy. The House Un-American Activities Committee. It’s so obvious when it’s pointed out. But McCarthy and Huac go together in my mind like salt and pepper. If it had been me editing a similar piece, I might have got lucky and used a conjunction after McCarthy instead of a possessive (“McCarthy and Huac”, not “McCarthy’s Huac”), thus leaving open the possibility of disjunction and sparing the worst of my blushes. But really, it would have got right through me.
Who was the chairman of Huac, then? Rep Edward J Hart took the role when it became a permanent committee after the war – I’ve now, finally, looked it up. (Why isn’t it called Hartism?) I imagine this is the kind of classic save American national editors make in their sleep, the same way foreign news subs stoop wearily to take the stray “s” off “Talibans” in home writers’ copy (“Ah, you don’t speak Pashto? Well, Taliban is the plural. The singular is Talib. Try to remember.”)
Newsrooms are full of sharp and literate people. When I was chatting with the business reporters last week, somebody asked what poujadisme meant in relation to Ed Miliband and almost everyone on the economics desk simultaneously chimed in to explain. It was a splendid working-on-a-broadsheet moment. But crushing, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God corrections such as on the Huac article are a reminder, not just that there’s so much we’ll never know, but that there’s always so much we ought to see and never do.
Saved from my embarrassment this time, at least, I’m on my mettle now. Ceaseless vigilance is the watchword. Apparently, New York’s so good that it’s been named twice. I aim to crack down pretty hard on redundancy like that.