Okay one more round.

July 31, 2003 8:58 p.m.

Okay, one more round. If you’ve read the previous few posts you know that TPM reader Bryan M. wrote in to tell me that if I want the president to fire the “senior administration officials” who blew the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame then I am obligated to first ascertain who these as-yet-anonymous officials are. I published the letter because this struck me as a ridiculous argument.

Now some readers thought I was saying it was a sound criticism — a misunderstanding I don’t understand.

But a few other hawk-eyed readers pointed out that the grammar I used in my column was actually imprecise and clumsy.

Jon G. wrote in to say …

When I originally read it, I thought it was some grammar joke. Your

“the president should find out who they are, reprimand them or, preferably,
fire them.”

could be read as the president should find out who they are OR reprimand
them OR fire them. I.e., finding them out is one option, but firing (or
reprimanding) them without finding out who they are is another.

I think what you meant is, “the president should find out who they are and
then reprimand them or, preferably, fire them.”

OK, it’s kind of a weak joke, but maybe that’s where Bryan M. was coming

Ouch. I think he’s got me. And there’s nothing worse than being hoisted on your own mockery, believe me.

Here I was thinking Bryan M. was making a boneheaded criticism, when actually the jokes on me because he was knocking me for my dopey grammar. Now I’m feeling better though because Bryan M. has written back in to confirm that it actually was the boneheaded criticism he was making, not the grammatical point …

I see I have become a subject of your current post. Evidently, we have
both been too subtle for our respective reader(s). As you must know, my
comment was directed to the fact that it may not be very easy for Mr.
Bush to “pick up the phone” and “get to the bottom” of these anonymous
statements. It seems to me that before you criticize the President for
failing to fire these unknown employees you ought to be sure that he is
able to tell who he should fire. Do you know which “senior
Administration officials” he should fire for this transgression? Do you
know that the President has not already attempted to discover the
identities of these persons?

Since you decided publish my original comments aren’t you obligated to
provide your readers with my explanation as well?

As it happens, I don’t think this is true. In Washington reporterese, “senior administration official” can only refer to a fairly small group of people. So I don’t suspect it would be that hard, if he was determined to get to the bottom of it.

In any case, I know this is probably getting a touch tedious for regular readers. So, I promise, no more.

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