Let me rewrite that for you!

As a companion piece to my post on a tragically problematic New York Times article about Thursday’s delayed vote in Congress, I’d like to try something new.

I’ll call it: “Let me rewrite that for you.”

I’m going to take a handful of recent articles that I felt badly missed the mark, and offer alternative ledes or nut graphs that I think do a better job of telling the truer story.

Let’s start with that overwrought, smarmy, inaccurate Sept. 30 New York Times article, headlined: House Delays Vote on Infrastructure Bill as Democrats Feud, by Jonathan Weisman and Emily Cochrane:

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure plan suffered a significant setback late Thursday night when House Democratic leaders, short of support amid a liberal revolt, put off a planned vote on a crucial plank of their domestic agenda.

Democratic leaders and supporters of the bill insisted the postponement was only a temporary setback. The infrastructure vote was rescheduled for Friday, giving them more time to reach agreement on an expansive climate change and social safety net bill that would bring liberals along.

But such a deal appeared far off, and the delay was a humiliating blow to Mr. Biden and Democrats, who had spent days toiling to broker a deal between their party’s feuding factions and corral the votes needed to pass the infrastructure bill. The president has staked his reputation as a deal-maker on the success of both the public works package and a far more ambitious social policy bill, whose fates are now uncertain in a Congress buffeted by partisan divides and internal Democratic strife.

Given the distance between the party’s left flank and a few centrists on that larger bill, it was not clear when or even whether either would have the votes — and whether Mr. Biden’s economic agenda could be revived.

Let me rewrite that for you!

WASHINGTON — The House Democratic leadership missed a self-imposed deadline late Thursday night to pass a major part of President Biden’s economic agenda, as negotiations on his wider agenda continued between virtually the entire Democratic party, on the one hand, and two recalcitrant, corporate-friendly Democratic senators, on the other.

Democratic leaders had intended to win House approval on Thursday for a bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August by a 69 to 30 vote. About half of the bill’s $1 trillion price tag over 10 years – about $55 billion a year — represents new spending on roads and bridges, high-speed rail, climate resilience and broadband.

But members of the House progressive caucus demanded another vote first — on the larger and more controversial package that is at the heart of Biden’s economic and social “Build Back Better” agenda. At $3.5 trillion over 10 years, that bill would bring massive new investments in human capital, including universal pre-K, free community college tuition, extended child tax credit, Medicare expansion, and paid leave, as well as a huge new commitment to measures intended to reduce carbon emissions and pollution.

The fate of the larger bill, however, remains somewhat at the mercy of Senators Joe Manchin and Kristin Sinema, whose votes are needed for Senate passage and who continue to issue vague but heated objections, for reasons neither has fully explained.

Denominators, Part 1

Here’s the top of an objectionable Sept. 28 Washington Post story by Timothy Bella headlined “N.C. hospital system fires about 175 workers in one of the largest-ever mass terminations due to a vaccine mandate.”

A North Carolina-based hospital system announced Monday that roughly 175 unvaccinated employees were fired for failing to comply with the organization’s mandatory coronavirus vaccination policy, the latest in a series of health-care dismissals over coronavirus immunization.

Novant Health said last week that 375 unvaccinated workers — across 15 hospitals and 800 clinics — had been suspended for not getting immunized. Unvaccinated employees were given five days to comply.

Novant Health spokeswoman Megan Rivers told The Washington Post that more than 99 percent of the system’s roughly 35,000 employees have followed the mandatory vaccination program. She said in a statement that Novant Health was “thrilled” those who chose to be vaccinated have given patients and visitors “better protection against COVID-19 regardless of where they are in our health system.”

Let me rewrite that for you!

First, let me rewrite the headline, as per the suggestion of Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of Hofstra University’s school of communication: “N.C. hospital network employees accept vaccine mandate with 99.5% compliance.”

As for the top:

A North Carolina-based hospital system is reporting a stunning level of compliance with its vaccine mandate, assuaging fears that scores of employees would quit and leave patients untended.

Novant Health spokeswoman Megan Rivers told The Washington Post that more than 99 percent of the system’s roughly 35,000 employees have followed the mandatory vaccination program. She said in a statement that Novant Health was “thrilled” those who chose to be vaccinated have given patients and visitors “better protection against COVID-19 regardless of where they are in our health system.”

Only about 175 unvaccinated employees — across 15 hospitals and 800 clinics — were fired for failing to comply. That’s one half of one percent of the workforce. Some 375 workers had been suspended five days earlier for not getting immunized, but more than half complied in time.

As economist Dean Baker, who has heroically campaigned to get reporters to use denominators as well as numerators, tweeted:

Denominators, Part 2

The New York Times story published on Sept. 29 by Coral Murphy Marcos was headlined “United Airlines to Fire Workers Who Refused to Get a Vaccination.”

Its lead paragraph:

United Airlines said it would terminate about 600 employees for refusing to comply with its vaccination requirement, putting the company at the forefront of the battle over vaccine mandates as the economy moves through a bumpy pandemic recovery.

Let me rewrite that for you!

Or, better yet, let David Schaper of NPR rewrite that for you! NPR!

His article, headlined “United Airlines Says Almost All Its Workers Are Vaccinated; Some Others May Be Fired,” started off as follows:

United Airlines is touting the success of its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, saying that more than 99% of its U.S.-based employees have met the company’s requirement to get vaccinated, or have applied for a religious or medical exemption.

But the fewer than 600 United employees who did not get vaccinated by the airline’s deadline of Sept. 27 now face termination.

Doom unrealized

On Sept. 26, New York Times reporters Anne Barnard, Grace Ashford and Neil Vigdor triple-bylined an article headlined “These Health Care Workers Would Rather Get Fired Than Get Vaccinated.”

The article opened from the perspective of two anti-vaxxers:

Deborah Conrad, a physician assistant in western New York, and Simmone Leslie, a hospital switchboard operator in Queens, have both worked long, risky hours during the pandemic. But now, both are prepared to lose their jobs rather than meet Monday’s state deadline for health care workers to get vaccinated.

And the story darkly warned that “their recalcitrance embodies a conundrum facing New York.”

Let me rewrite that for you! Or not! The New York Times itself effectively rewrote it for them three days later, adding the following at the top of the story:

As the mandate deadline approached, thousands of resistant health care workers got vaccinated.


(You like? Should I make this a regular feature? Let me know. And send me your rewrites!)




  1. I love your rewrites! Former newspaper staff writer and copy editor here. My jaws hurt from gnashing my teeth over so many junk stories and headlines. What the ever-lovin’ f&%k is wrong with journalists today?

  2. “…and two recalcitrant, corporate-friendly Democratic senators, on the other.”

    Let me rewrite that for you!

    “…two recalcitrant, plutocrat-friendly Democratic senators…”

    This is on the grounds that “corporate Democrat” has a devolved into a meaningless cliche that manages to serve as both as a debate-stopping epithet and a euphemism that hides the actual driving force.

    This buzzword also doesn’t recognize that corporate interests are complex and conflicting (not to mention being dimly understood) or that millions of liberal and progressive Democrats work for corporations and like it. Nor do we see progressive legislation as necessarily opposed to business interests (the opposite, generally).

    So drop the use of “corporate-friendly” etc and call what Manchin and especially Sinema are doing: Acting in the interests of protecting the personal wealth of the super rich.

  3. I grew up in a small town newsroom, and my wife was a correspondent for The AP for 30+ years. Today’s big-name journalism is reeking of failure and kowtowing to the big money interests and the right-wing. It is so bad I fear for the future of our democracy. Thanks for the work you do to counteract that trend!

  4. And by the way at least half of those fired or suspended employees will get the vaccine when they figure out that they kind of liked getting a paycheck (if they haven’t already) and their qualifications don’t mean anything to an Amazon warehouse, where people also have to work their butts off like it’s 1900. And shouldn’t stories have been written about the phenomena of anti-medical science physician assistants instead?


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