How We Make the Sausage

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I spotted this passage in Thursday's New York Times:

"Interviews with [Augusta}members in past years have indicated that while business deals are generally not discussed at the club, business issues are. The suddenly disreputable affairs of a four-time Masters champion and his dissolution as a one-time champion of the athlete-as-pitchman marketplace would certainly have been a probable topic of conversation."

The back story as I imagine it...

Reporter submits: "...would certainly have been a topic of conversation."

Editor queries: "How do we know this?"

Reporter replies: "Can you possibly imagine the members not talking about Tiger Woods?"

Editor: "But we weren't in the clubhouse. If you have a source we need to name the source."

Reporter: "I don't have a source."

Editor: "Then I don't see how we can say 'certainly.'"

Reporter: "Because I'm certain."

Editor: "This isn't a column. Readers won't read it as your opinion. They'll assume you know."

Reporter: "I do know. I know the people. I know human nature. I'm as certain as I can be."

Editor: "What if we said, 'Would, in the view of anyone familiar with the nature of the Augusta membership, certainly have been a topic of conversation.'?"

Reporter: "That seems wordy to me."

Senior editor, stepping in: "I don't like that at all."

Reporter: "Thank you."

Senior editor: "It doesn't solve the problem. Readers assume this paper's reporter is familiar with the nature of the Augusta membership. But that doesn't explain how he can be certain what they talk about. What if we said, 'Informed sources say it would certainly have been a topic of conversation.'?"

Editor: "He doesn't have sources."

Senior editor: "You two work it out."

Production official: "Have you guys worked out the language in that Augusta story yet?"

Editor: "We're on it."

Production official: "It's late as hell."

Editor: "We're almost there."

Reporter: "It's my byline and I like 'certainly.' I'll take the heat if readers complain."

Editor: "You can say that, but you represent the paper."

Senior editor, wandering by again: "How about, 'would have been a typical topic of conversation.'?" That doesn't say it was or it wasn't.

Reporter: "There's nothing typical about the topic of Tiger Woods."

Senior editor: "Well, keep an eye on the clock."

Editor: "I'd be comfortable saying Woods was a 'probable' topic of conversation."

Reporter: "That's a weasel word."

Editor: "No it isn't. We can't objectively claim certainty. We can objectively claim probability."

Reporter: "I don't want to argue about this any longer."

Production official, returning: "This is the only story we're waiting for."

Reporter: "I don't want to hold up the edition, but I will stake my reputation as a journalist on 'certainly.'"

Editor: "Then 'certainly' it is."

Reporter: "You're sure?"

Editor: "If it means that much to you."

Reporter: "It's not the end of the world."

Editor: "No, these things matter. We want to keep you happy."

Reporter: "Well, thanks."

Editor: "You take off."

Reporter: "You're sure?"

Editor: "Absolutely. I'll handle it from here."

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