Anatomy of a Letter to the Editor
Writing letters to editors is an art. The best such letters are often disagreeable, but they are always stylish in their disputations. A good letter to the editor might compare an article's factual errors to picnic ants, or casually mention that the arguments an author put forward in a lengthy article on a serious public policy issue were originally made in the March 1963 issue of Reader's Digest. When well-executed, the letter to the editor takes issue with shades of interpretation, examines the etymology of words, expresses outrage by indirection, proves superiority through sheer force of wit. In general, such letters make their writers sound thoughtful, intelligent, extremely knowledgeable, unfortunately abused, yet, somehow, entirely above the fray.
SOMA publicist Tricia James recently sent a letter to the editor of SF Weekly, complaining about an Unspun column that made fun of a publicity event she had engineered ("Anatomy of a Press Kit," May 28).
James' letter deals with a column about the press releases and photographs she compiled for a Moët & Chandon publicity event that required Mayor Willie Brown to kneel before a sword-wielding champagne salesman in the Charles Schwab Room of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The press kit provided choice photos of Brown in a variety of sword-related poses that made the mayor look silly to the point of near-racist caricature.
James' letter attempts to turn the column's satire back on itself. Alas, her rhetorical arsenal is slim, indeed; clumsy sarcasm and insincere politeness seem to be the only weapons in working order.
Some educational tips, then, seem to be in order. And pay attention now, Trish; you never know when you'll need to write another letter to an editor.
James has a new letterhead since her May 7 communique, which raved about Willie Brown's ability to open a champagne bottle with a ... sword. Or perhaps it is just that she has different letterheads for different occasions. At any rate, this letterhead provides the new and startling information that the people who work at Tricia James & Co. are public and community and governmental relations consultants, and gives rise to a joke: How many words does it take a public and community and governmental relations consultant to say "flack"?
And just which of Willie's ex-girlfriends have been calling? By the by, one of James' clients, the Spencer Smyth Gallery, doesn't appear to be too happy, judging by its letter last week complaining about the column. Come to think of it, though, unhappy clients don't tend to call, so James may be telling the truth here.
Just a question: "Why" would "a" communications specialist like "Tricia" James consider the indiscriminate "use" of quotation marks "to" be witty, much "less" good English? By the way, budding communications specialists, please remember that commas and periods go inside quotation marks.
Take another look at the photo of Willie on bended knee grinning up at the Moët man, Trish, and tell us it doesn't say "Mammy" to you.