Hey Jack Welch: Question marks don’t help


(LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)

The most craven part of Jack Welch’s unemployment act of last Friday wasn’t all the cable-news airtime that a dumb tweet scored him. Nor was it the insult to the integrity of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which had reported a drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent. Nor was it the lack of evidence behind Welch’s controversial tweet:

Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.

No, the most craven part of the entire exercise is the caveat that Welch keeps issuing to edit that tweet. Here’s how he phrased it in a piece that surfaced last night on the Wall Street Journal:

As I said that same evening in an interview on CNN, if I could write that tweet again, I would have added a few question marks at the end, as with my earlier tweet, to make it clear I was raising a question.

No dice, Mr. Welch. The insertion of a punctuational touch doesn’t water down an allegation of criminal tampering. For the sake of testing, let’s just look at how that tweet might be phrased in Welch’s revisionist fantasy:

Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers???

There it is, just as Welch would have it. The result is no change in meaning or implication. The revised tweet still raises the same allegations of corruption at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and at the White House. It just leaves a quarter square foot of wiggle room for the coward behind the tweet.

In grasping for the question mark, Welch joins the world of journalism. Reporters and editors slap question marks on their slightly shaky or overreaching headlines all the time, the better to leave them some degree of deniability in case the subject of the story makes some noise. Hey, I posed it as a question, comes the response to the disgruntled subject. Yours truly is among those journalists guilty of such question-mark usage. Thanks to Jack Welch for pointing out what a bad practice it is.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.

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