Short leash?

中国日报网 2013-06-04 14:26



Short leash?Reader question:

Please explain this sentence, and in particular “short leash”:

The difference between legitimate news publishers and a blogger is that professional reporters have an editor to keep them on a short leash.

My comments:

Professional reporters have an editor to read their copy for a second opinion – check for grammatical errors and see whether the story is factually viable at all.

In short, thanks to the presence of an editor, traditional newspapers are able to produce generally credible copies.

As for the editor keeping reporters “on a short leash”, that means with the editors (more often called sub-editors or copy readers as a matter of fact) constantly egging them on to get EVERYTHING right, reporters seldom get out of control.

That’s in contrast to the blogger on the Internet, who is off the grid, so to speak. He has only himself to work with. If he thinks he has a scoop and gets over-zealous, he may let his copy get out of hand and hence produce a story that is known as sensational journalism – high on sensation, low in terms of believability.

That’s “the difference between legitimate news publishers and a blogger” explained. Actually, I feel it’s a compliment that traditional news publishers don’t always deserve because the quality of journalism in general has been in decline. However, I do agree that the Internet blogger tends to, on a whim, brag about any little farce.

Make that blog about, but you get the point.

Let’s turn to focus on the term “short leash”. Originally, this refers to the piece or rope a dog owner keeps in hand while he’s out enjoying a walk with his pet. Leash is the formal name of this piece of rope, which is attached to the collar of the dog. Whenever its owner detects anything untoward from the dog, he pulls the leash to rein the animal in.

The leash can be long or it can be short. In the street, we sometimes see people walking their tiny dog using a leash of about 10 meters in length. Other times, we see people walking with a big dog step by step, holding a leash no longer than 2 meters in length.

Needless to say, the big dog is a more dangerous animal. Its owner keeps the leash short in order to keep it under tight control.

As for the other dog, with the longer leash, he has greater freedom to roam about.

By analogy, if someone keeps other people on a leash, they want to keep them under control.

The shorter or tighter leash, the greater the control – or the less wiggle room to give.


Alright, here are recent media examples of “short leash”, or “tight leash”:

1. Since Bob Bennett’s ouster, Sen. Orrin Hatch has been on his best behavior, fighting to convince the electorate that he’s a true conservative. The people of Utah have had him on a short leash, which has been a remarkable display of the power that “we the people” still retain over our elected officials.

Some numbers: Hatch has been proudly touting his recent 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union. In 2009, however, his rating was only 89 percent and in 2008 he scored only 80 percent. Clearly, 2010 was a turning point for Hatch, and he has lately become a very dedicated conservative.

Thank goodness he was up for re-election. Hatch has stated that, if we send him back for one more term, it will be his last. Folks, shouldn't we be worried about that? The leash which has kept Hatch so active in conservative causes of late would effectively disappear. The prospect must be attractive to him — 6 years in office without the leash. Six years wherein he can operate without concern for the scrutiny of an energized constituency.

Indeed, his intent to make this his last term in office should be one of the strongest cases against him. We must keep our politicians on a leash.

- Letter: Keep politicians on leash,, April 5 2012.

2. Can we agree that kids are not always very smart about what they do? Neither are adults, of course, but they at least ought to know better.

For young people, though, limited life experience can be dangerous. Their judgment is not fully developed and they have a sometimes reckless belief in their own indestructibility, a condition endemic to their age. The consequences of that can be tragic, especially at this time of year, when the water beckons and dangers go unappreciated.

In Wilson last Sunday, a 16-year-old boy drowned after "pier jumping" with his friends into Lake Ontario. Some friends tried to rescue him; others, frozen by fear, didn’t know what to do.

In Florida last week, an 11-foot alligator lunged at a 17-year-old boy swimming in a river, snapping his arm off below the elbow. The alligator was found and killed and the arm was recovered, but doctors could not reattach it.

In Maryland last weekend, two cousins and an 8-year-old friend – all boys – drowned in a creek on the state’s Eastern Shore. The boys’ parents were at work and police believe they may have gone to the creek to cool down.

These are tragedies. None of them had to happen and, sad to say, they are not uncommon. Swimming is one of the real pleasures of a short summer. At a certain age, it is the reason even to have a summer. The lure is magnetic, but the dangers are real, especially when young people are swimming unsupervised by lifeguards or adults.

It’s not just swimming, of course. Too often we report tragedies involving teenagers driving too fast for road conditions or taking other chances that someone with more mature judgment would know – or, at least, should know – to avoid.

Some things can be done. In Buffalo, police cars are now equipped with water safety devices that officers can use to rescue distressed swimmers. One was used to save a man in the Niagara River only 16 hours after the first cars received the new equipment. Other police departments, in municipalities bordering waterways, would do well to invest in similar equipment.

Areas that are “attractive nuisances,” as Wilson's mayor described the twin piers that jut into Lake Ontario, should be monitored as much as practical with prominent warning signs posted. Schools, churches and community groups need to ensure, as best as possible, that young people are made aware of dangers they might otherwise ignore.

And, of course, parents need to be vigilant. As any parent of a teenager will acknowledge, it is impossible to keep them on a tight leash at all times, especially as they get older. Sometimes, all you can do is to repeat the lessons again and again and hope that they get through.

- Steps can be taken to increase safety at summer’s ‘attractive nuisances’,, July 15, 2012.

3. Britney Spears will not be taking up a residency in Las Vegas, it has been reported, despite persistent rumours recently.

The media has been buzzing in recent weeks over speculation that the former X Factor judge had signed a $100million (£63.7m) contract to regularly perform at Caesar’s Palace Colosseum.

But a representative for Caesars Entertainment has now confirmed that the company is not in talks with Spears, BuzzFeed reports.

The company’s public relations director, Emily Wofford, said that Caesars Palace is “packed every weekend” for months and that the firm is “engaged with a number of today’s top artists in discussions regarding headlining residencies at our venues in Las Vegas.”

But she added that the company is “always interested” in stars of a similar level to Britney.

Artists currently holding residencies at the Colosseum include Celine Dion, Elton John and Shania Twain.

There had been concern that the Vegas lifestyle might prove difficult to handle should Britney have taken a residency in the famous city of sin, with her father expressing his worries and saying that he’d keep her on a short leash should she move to the city.

- Britney Spears not taking up Las Vegas residency,, February 3, 2013.

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Go to Zhang Xin's column


About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



















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