This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory, But Simply an Observation on One Amazingly Prolific NYT Letter Writer

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Think it’s tough to get your thoughts published by the most venerable newspaper in the country? Don’t tell that to Margaret McGirr.

The Greenwich, Conn., resident has seen no fewer than 35 letters to the editor appear in the New York Times in the last decade — with at least nine others appearing under the name of “Maggie McGirr” — according to a Lexis/Nexis search. Her most recent effort arrives in today’s paper, where she writes that President George W. Bush “has always been the first to accept responsibility for the decisions he has made.” (Though she doesn’t include any evidence of this happening.)

Defending the Bush White House is a theme that runs consistently through her letters. On Nov. 4, 2005, for example, she wrote that, “It is not possible for President Bush to have ‘misled’ the American people about the rationale for the war in Iraq when he believed that what he was telling us was true. End of conspiracy.”

On Aug. 11, 2005, she criticized Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones for a song critical of Condoleezza Rice: (“I think I’ll stick with the concert pianist with the foreign policy background and the sterling record in the State Department — if it’s all the same to you, Mick.”)

On Oct. 11, 2004, John Kerry’s body language convinced her that the Massachusetts senator was not presidential material. Kerry, she wrote, “sits round-shouldered and looking slightly forlorn, while President Bush takes command of the physical space as he strides out to meet the audience.”

On July 4, 2007, she blasted the Scooter Libby investigation as “a sorry waste of … a good man’s career.”

On Feb. 6, 2007, she went after “global-warming evangelists” for threatening America’s economic vitality with burdensome environmental regulations:

Some say they don’t want their children to have to cope with the alleged nightmare of climate change, but I am far sadder that my children will have to cope with the reduced richness of opportunity that will exist at every socioeconomic level in an economy crippled by restricted access to the energy that powers it.

And all of this, of course, is perfectly fine. Readers with opinions should let ‘em fly. But the question remains how one individual could have so much success getting the Times to publish her words.

Questions sent to the Times received no response, and no one answered the phone at the McGirr house in Greenwich.

NYTs letters editor Thomas Feyer has written a “compact” (last updated in 2004) outlining some of the criteria for letter submissions, including some hints on how readers can increase their chances of being published. “While the odds are long, some letter writers seem to know how to shorten them,” Feyer says, advising readers to “write quickly, concisely and engagingly.”

Still, Feyer also warns letter writers not to hold their breath for publication, pointing out that letters “come in relentlessly, round the clock, from around the country and around the world, at a rate of roughly a thousand a day.”

Somehow, Margaret McGirr has discovered how to rise atop of that stack.

Editor’s Note: This is Matt DeLong, TWI’s blog editor. It’s very funny that Mike caught this, because I can actually offer some insight into this phenomenon. Andrew Rosenthal, The New York Times’ editorial page editor, gave a lecture at my college. Rosenthal discussed this very topic, and he said (I’m paraphrasing from memory) that the surest way to get a letter published in The Times is to write a concise and articulate defense of any of the Bush administration’s policies. The reason for this, he said, is that The Times receives torrents of letters criticizing Bush, but very few in support, so in the name of balance, a solidly-written pro-Bush letter has a far greater chance of getting printed than an anti-Bush letter of comparable quality. As I recall, Rosenthal actually mentioned McGirr by name as one such conservative letter writer.

Comments

3 Comments

M. Connor
Comment posted January 6, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

I thought I was the only one who ever noticed this, and not just because the Times has never published any of my written-in-anger letters to the editor. I am holding out hope that this Margaret McGirr is in fact a satirist of Swiftian (or at least Colbertian) proportions. As for Rosenthal's criteria, I can accept concise as a description of McGirr's style (when one is unencumbered by facts or complex ideas an economy of words is relatively easy) but articulate, not so much.


W. Nix
Comment posted January 7, 2009 @ 9:43 pm

Mr. or Ms. Connor,

Perhaps the reason you are never published is your seeming inability to focus your vocabulary. I have no idea what strikes you as inarticulate about Ms. McGirr's musings. “Articulate” is not a partisan adjective the last time I checked. No matter what views you espouse, her writing seems pretty “clear and expressive.” At the very least it's enough so to be cited by Rosenthal in a lecture, which, I'm assuming, is another milestone you haven't reached yet either.

You, Sir or Miss, are the inarticulate one.

Articulate
adj.

1. Endowed with the power of speech.
2. Composed of distinct, meaningful syllables or words, as human speech.
3. Expressing oneself easily in clear and effective language: an articulate speaker.
4. Characterized by the use of clear, expressive language: an articulate essay.


W. Nix
Comment posted January 8, 2009 @ 5:43 am

Mr. or Ms. Connor,

Perhaps the reason you are never published is your seeming inability to focus your vocabulary. I have no idea what strikes you as inarticulate about Ms. McGirr's musings. “Articulate” is not a partisan adjective the last time I checked. No matter what views you espouse, her writing seems pretty “clear and expressive.” At the very least it's enough so to be cited by Rosenthal in a lecture, which, I'm assuming, is another milestone you haven't reached yet either.

You, Sir or Miss, are the inarticulate one.

Articulate
adj.

1. Endowed with the power of speech.
2. Composed of distinct, meaningful syllables or words, as human speech.
3. Expressing oneself easily in clear and effective language: an articulate speaker.
4. Characterized by the use of clear, expressive language: an articulate essay.


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