Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Let’s take a moment to remember Warren Harding: publisher, senator, rock climber, president

Posted by metaphorical on 4 July 2008

Fifty years ago, President Warren Harding set out to climb El Capitan. It took him 47 days of repeated assaults, but he finally made it.

I think I need a new blog tag, something like “How Stupid Can You Be?” This time the hapless news network is NPR. (Thanks, Rachel, for the link.) Is there really anyone at that venerable organization who thinks that Warren G Harding, the 29th President, who died in office in 1923 at age 57, climbed El Cap? Fifty years ago? 35 years after the hapless Calvin Coolidge succeeded Harding in the Oval Office, because, you know, Harding had, um, died? In 1923?

Let’s try to imagine the process here as some NPR intern somewhere on the East Coast gets a San Francisco Chronicle report that the speed record for climbing El Cap has been broken. (We’ll leave aside why breaking the old record by a mere 2 minutes, or about a 1.2% improvement, is worth reporting at all.)

The Sfgate story lists all the de rigeur stats for a story like this: how many on El Cap, how many have died climbing the particular route that the record-breaking climbers chose, and, with no other distinguishing description, the name of El Cap’s first ascentionist, which happens to be Warren Harding. Warren J. Harding, the sports-car-driving, rotgut-wine-drinking, rock-climbing, one-time land surveyor, not Warren G. Harding, the the former newspaper publisher, Republican Senator from Ohio, and President of the United States.

How little history do you have to be acquainted with to possibly confuse the two Hardings? If the first ascent of El Cap was 50 years ago, it took place in 1958. Let’s make this really simple. If you know nothing else about Warren G Harding’s presidency, could you at least, dear intern, locate it in the first half of the century? You know, the other one, the one that 1958 isn’t in?

I don’t mean, dear intern, you should be able to definitively rule out the idea of President Harding as the man who spent 47 days over the course of two years climbing an impressive but obscure rock face in central California. No, of course not. I’m just wishing your shaky grip on American history could have at least been firm enough to at have gone to Wikipedia and check, oh, say, when President Harding died.

Oh, here’s another request, dear intern. When you sneak back into the HTML and update your story to delete the word “President,” put a little note on bottom saying that the story was corrected. Someone, after all, might have been industrious enough to take a screen shot of your blinding stupidity.

NPR gets it wrong

NPR gets it wrong

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3 Responses to “Let’s take a moment to remember Warren Harding: publisher, senator, rock climber, president”

  1. Vicki said

    Oh, here’s another request, dear intern. When you sneak back into the HTML and update your story to delete the word “President,” put a little note on bottom saying that the story was corrected. Someone, after all, might have been industrious enough to take a screen shot of your blinding stupidity.

    Well, they didn’t put it on the bottom. Is it all right if it’s on the top, just below the title?

    Correction: Earlier, the Web text for this story incorrectly stated that it was former U.S. president Warren Harding (Nov. 2, 1865-Aug. 2, 1923) who first climbed El Capitan. In fact, it was Yosemite climbing legend Warren Harding, who died in 2002.

  2. That’s interesting…. it’s possible I overlooked it, but I’m pretty sure the correction statement wasn’t there when I was drafting the post. There was a lag between the last time I looked at the NPR page and when I posted.

    I hope we don’t let this detract from the main point I hoped to make — if we measured historical literacy the way we do reading and math, far too many people struggle (or worse, don’t even struggle) with the equivalent of the 4 column in the multiplication table.

  3. John Schmidt said

    for an interesting read of the life and times of Warren J Harding, climber:

    http://www.climbing.com/exclusive/features/batso/

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