The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

Renowned copy ed­i­tor Mer­rill Perl­man comes to the de­fense of out­spo­ken Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den Jr. in the Columbia Jour­nal­ism Re­view; her head­line: “Comma Su­ture: A lit­tle punc­tu­a­tion mark can hold things to­gether, or rend them asunder.”

She ob­serves that the se­lec­tion of Mr. Bi­den to be Sen. Barack Obama’s run­ning mate has re­vived the de­bate over a state­ment the Delaware Demo­crat made in early 2007: “I mean, you got the first main­stream African-Amer­i­can who is ar­tic­u­late and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

“Now, we’re not go­ing to deal with the ques­tion of whether his use of words like ‘ar­tic­u­late’ and ‘clean’ was racist or oth­er­wise loaded, or whether he was slight­ing other ‘main­stream’ African-Amer­i­cans like Jesse Jack­son, Shirley Chisholm or even Jackie Robin­son. In­stead, we’re go­ing to fo­cus on the comma that could have helped make his point clearer,” Ms. Perl­man writes.

In­stead, she quotes Dean Mills, who hap­pens to be dean of the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri School of Jour­nal­ism: “Sel­dom has the dis­tinc­tion be­tween a re­stric­tive and a non­re­stric­tive clause been more im­por­tant. Without the comma, which is how ev­ery ver­sion I’ve seen is punc­tu­ated, it sounds as if Bi­den is say­ing that all other African-Amer­i­can candidates were not ar­tic­u­late, bright, etc.

“But if you lis­ten to the clips, Bi­den pauses sig­nif­i­cantly be­tween ‘African-Amer­i­can’ and ‘who.’ So he could have meant (and al­most cer­tainly did): ‘I mean, you got the first main­stream African-Amer­i­can, who is ar­tic­u­late and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.’ ”

Ms. Perl­man says she and Dean Mills “have had fre­quent run-ins over the se­rial comma, which he fer­vently be­lieves in and I don’t. But this time, I’m on his side.”

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