Ambush by Pull-Quote

We’re not much into critiquing typographical devices here at Campaign Desk, but there comes a time. This is that time.

Before an article is laid to bed at a magazine or newspaper, editors squabble over something called the pull-quote (also known variously as the billboard, or teaser, or blurb). Boxed off and printed in a larger font, the pull-quote is a typographical device that calls attention to a particularly biting passage in a piece, or highlights the underlying theme. It’s standard practice to “pull” the passage verbatim from the article, and to put quote marks around it if it is in fact a direct quotation.

Unfortunately, at The Wall Street Journal, standard practice went down the toilet today with the pull-quote the newspaper employed in an op-ed article by known Kerry critic and Vietnam veteran John O’Neill.

We can’t show you the print edition of the Journal. But, while the pull-quote is refashioned as a sub-head in the online version, we assure you it appears differently in the print edition. It is set off, boxed, placed in boldface italic type, and surrounded by quotation marks, smack in the middle of the piece.

Here’s the pull-quote verbatim:

‘I was on Mr. Kerry’s boat in Vietnam. He doesn’t deserve to be commander in chief.’

We understand the appeal that passage had to an editor. It’s a memorable quote. It would be even more memorable if it were something O’Neill wrote.

But it isn’t. Those words are nowhere to be found in the accompanying article.

What O’Neill does write is that, while he was “on” the same boat that Kerry commanded, he wasn’t there when Kerry was. As he makes clear, he in fact was shipped in to succeed Kerry as commander of the boat once Kerry was removed from the combat zone.

Additionally, while it’s safe to conclude that John O’Neill isn’t going to be voting for John Kerry anytime soon, at no point in the article does he write the words, “he doesn’t deserve to be commander in chief.”

The only good thing that can come of this is the fact that the false quote is so compelling that it’s bound to pull readers into the article - where they will learn what O’Neill really wrote.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.