Pointers for McCain


Dear Senator McCain:

Sorry to hear that your op-ed column about Iraq was rejected by The New York Times less than a week after the paper printed an op-ed by Barack Obama on the same topic.

Apparently one of the editors, David Shipley, told you, "I'm not going to be able to accept this piece as currently written," and said you to should submit another draft. Go for it!

Although I'm totally unqualified to advise you on war strategy, I do have plenty of personal experience dealing with rejection by newspapers. For years I read brilliant pieces by Pulitzer Prize-winner Dave Barry and wished I could find so many creative ways to sneak the word "booger" into an op-ed. I'm sure you felt the same way when you read Sen. Obama's column in The Times.

Don't give up! Here are a few suggestions:

● Write a stronger lead. Your piece begins: "In January 2007, when General David Petraeus took command in Iraq..." Too dull! Start with something that will grab readers' attention, such as, "Are we a nation of winners or whiners?"

● Punch up the language. Try to incorporate as many currently fashionable op-ed terms as possible, such as: "traction," "metric," "pivot," "blowback" and "transparency." And be sure to mention that someone in Iraq was "thrown under the bus."

● Tie your piece to the season. Editors like columns that coordinate with the calendar. You might say, "With millions of Americans heading off on vacation, don't overlook Baghdad, which has much to offer families looking for fun this summer!"

● Be a professor. Nothing sells an op-ed like a college credential. Offer to teach a class somewhere so that your italicized bio will read, "John McCain, a presumptive nominee for president, is a visiting professor of Iraqi Policy at the Fernhoff School of International Relations and Automotive Repairs."

● Butter up the editor. Have you sent a small gift to David Shipley? After all, he gets hundreds of submissions each day; what have you done to make him look favorably on your work? Send him a CD of your favorite Iraqi folk songs, or a bottle of a wonderful Iraqi wine - maybe a nice Abu Ghrape.

● Consider alternative publications. Perhaps the Iraq column could be reworked for other markets. For example, if you add to your plan the notion that the NBA should relocate its Seattle team to Karbala, you might sell the piece to Sports Illustrated. Or, if you could come up with some tempting recipes favored by Marines in Mosul, you could submit the column to Martha Stewart Living.

● Get a computer. No offense, Senator, but editors really frown on handwritten articles sent by U.S. Mail. You mentioned recently that you don't use a computer, but is there someone on your staff who could keyboard the column for you?

● Start a blog. Nowadays many frustrated columnists like yourself have blogs so they don't have to worry about persnickety editors who insist on fact-checking and good grammar and things like that. But again, handwritten blogs usually aren't successful.

By the way, did you know that Dave Barry is running for president? He insists he is, "even though you never read anything about it in 'mainstream' media." So, here's a guy who is apparently willing to give up a fabulous career as a columnist for the thankless job of being president. If you, sir, ever decide to give up your bid for the presidency, I'm certain you, too, could someday become a successful, booger-loving columnist.

Bon Journo,
Peter Funt

© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Boston Globe.

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