Letter from the editor: Blame and responsibility

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The Independent Online

My thought for today is about blame and responsibility. Every day, when I complete this column, I ask one or two of my most trusted lieutenants to read it through, and to point out any mistakes I may have made (I know, it’s a fanciful idea, but just roll with it).

They stand over my computer screen and, after scrolling all the way down, they pass judgement. Sometimes, it’s a simple “Yes, fine” (is there a more crushing assessment than “fine”?). Occasionally, I get a “Good” (that’s when I know they haven’t read it properly) and, one or two times recently, I’ve had silence, followed by a studious “Mmmm...” (I translate that as “Utter rubbish, but you’re the boss so who are we to argue?”).

They may point out the odd mistake, or even a grammatical solecism, but, if they miss one, who is to blame? I castigate them, of course: they are meant to be the last line of defence. They believe that the author of the mistake in the first instance is the one who ought to take responsibility. Valerie Passmore, among others, has pointed out a mistake I made in a recent letter, when I talked of “nerve-wracking”. It should, of course, have read “nerve-racking”, in the sense of nerves being tortured on a rack. I knew that so well you could have woken me up in the middle of the night to ask me, but sometimes these errors are made in the general hurly-burly of putting a newspaper together.

I upbraided Dan, our deputy editor, for failing to save me from myself. He was livid. “You’re like a goalkeeper who lets the ball in, and then waves his hands around blaming his defenders,” he said. I’m not so sure. If you’re the boss, you take responsibility, but one of the benefits is that you can pass on the blame if things go wrong. David Cameron and Ken Clarke might be musing on that at this very moment!