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Gut check

Fine-tuning your instinct to punch out Don Imus

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It's time for another edition of Columnists Are Human (Charles Krauthammer not included). This is where we look at how good column writers take their gut reactions to the news of the day and turn them into the kind of crystal clear, reasonable prose readers expect.

How do we do it? Well, some of us calm down after our gut reaction with a meditation session, a shot of Dewar's, or a couple of Marlboros. Once relaxed, we research the topic at hand, place the distilled information in context, and present it in clear and stylish prose. Sometimes, though, I think it's a good idea for writers to be more transparent. So here is a series of recent news items, followed in each case by my first, gut reaction, and then a carefully crafted commentary more suitable for a column. I hope this will give you a better idea of the changes, hard work, and artistry involved in bringing you this fine column.

Item: N.C. General Assembly apologizes for slavery.
Gut reaction: What a waste of time. If you doofuses care so much about justice, how about passing a living wage law?
Final version: No harm can come from the apology, and we hope it foreshadows a new commitment by N.C. politicians to legislation that will help citizens who don't happen to be wealthy donors.

Item: Google Earth is updated with hi-res satellite images of refugee camps and destroyed villages in Darfur.
Gut reaction: I bet nobody in Darfur winds up on that "Top 10 Naked People on Google Earth" Web site.
Final version: Anything that can jolt people out of their complacency, and possibly into action against genocide, has to be seen as a plus, so bravo, Google.

Item: Talk jock Don Imus calls the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed ho's."
Gut reaction: Somebody ought to slap hell out of that moron, non-stop for about a week.
Final version: Political correctness can be oppressive, but the furor over Imus' idiotic comment has to be seen as a positive sign for U.S. culture. It's high time that people who casually spew racist remarks had their big-buck media jobs taken away.

Item: N.C. Attorney General Cooper drops sexual assault charges against three Duke lacrosse players.
Gut reaction: The people who demanded those guys' heads on a platter now look like vindictive, knee-jerk idiots.
Final version: This case is as stark a reminder as any in recent memory of the importance of the accused being considered "innocent until proven guilty."

Item: Circuit City announces it's laying off its 3,400 highest-paid salesclerks and replacing them with new clerks at starting salaries.
Gut reaction: Shameless corporate scum!
Final version: If corporations want to understand why employee loyalty is at an all-time low in America, they should start by looking at this case.

Item: Barack Obama raises more money for Democratic primaries than Gut reaction: Maybe now we can find out what this guy actually stands for.
Final version: Obama's impressive fundraising will hopefully give him the courage to explain his specific positions on the important issues facing the country.

Item: Sen. John McCain demonstrates that downtown Baghdad is "safe" by walking through a market wearing a bulletproof vest and accompanied by armed soldiers and Black Hawk helicopters.
Gut reaction: (Laughs) Well, that's pretty much the end of that old goat's presidential campaign.
Final version: Sen. McCain's photo op tour in Baghdad raised questions of his credibility and probably damaged his presidential aspirations.

Item: DNA reveals former boyfriend Larry Birkhead is father of the late Anna Nicole Smith's baby.
Gut reaction: Who gives a rat's ass?
Final version: The American public's ongoing fascination with lurid celebrity gossip can make you wonder about the country's mental state.

Item: Freezing weather kills 90 percent of South Carolina's peach crop.
Gut reaction: Great. Now it'll cost 20 bucks just to make a cobbler this summer.
Final version: The economic devastation for S.C. peach growers is the most important part of a disaster that will also effect consumers who are used to having the seasonal fruit every summer.

Items: 1. Army soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have their time in combat zones stretched from 12 to 15 months. 2. Bush says his "surge" is showing progress in Baghdad, the day before a suicide bomber kills members of the Iraqi parliament in the supposedly secure Green Zone. 3. Administration says it "lost" crucial e-mails concerning the firing of federal prosecutors. 4. Bush vows to veto Congress' bill easing restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.
Gut reaction: How in hell are we going to survive two more years of this imbecile?
Final version: How in hell are we going to survive two more years of this imbecile?

There. See how it works? I hope I've given you an idea of the hard work and talent, not to mention restraint, it takes to bring you the columns you love. See you next time!

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