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Press Review May 16, 2002
I, Michael McFaul, Writes Good
By Matt Taibbi Browse author

When a declarative or an imperative sentence is enclosed in quotation marks, the period ending the sentence is, in what may be called the American style, placed inside the closing quotation mark. If the quoted sentence is included within another sentence, its terminal period is omitted or replaced by a comma, as required, unless it comes at the end of the including sentence. In the latter case, a single period serves both sentences and is placed inside the closing quotation mark.

-- From the Chicago Manual of Style

McFaul Word Seek


  1. What McFaul's head is doing
  2. What McFaul does in the spirit of "all above the____"
  3. How McFaul spells "Crept"
  4. How McFaul spells "Goat"
  5. McFaul's basketball lookalike
  6. What McFaul cheered all those years
  7. Who's probably really fucking McFaul's wife
  8. What kind of frisbee McFaul played at Oxford
  9. How McFaul spells "Elk"
  10. What McFaul puts outside of quotation marks even though he's supposedly American
  11. How many exclamation points McFaul often puts at the end of a sentence
  12. What metaphorical color McFaul thinks his hairdo is
  13. What McFaul is, basically

Let me just say right off the bat that I am in the middle of an ongoing conflict with Stanford professor and Carnegie Fellow Michael McFaul, a conflict that involves lawyers on both sides and the very real possibility of future legal actions. For reasons that I hope eXile readers will understand, I can't get into any of the substantive issues of that conflict right now, because... well, because I'd rather explain them to a judge first. But rest assured, before we're through, the whole ugly ordeal will be presented in these pages in gross, merciless detail -- and we guarantee that you will be shocked and horrified by the whole unlikely story when we do.

That said, I just can't resist throwing a little sneak preview to the whole mess into this issue. Since I can't touch on any of the meaningful issues, I'm going to have to restrict myself to one seemingly minor point -- the inability of McFaul, a tenured professor at Stanford, to write so much as one sentence of proper English.

One of the reasons I feel compelled to write about this now is that it has been raining like hell for three days here in Buffalo, New York, where Krazy Kevin and I moved a month ago to set up a new eXile satellite publication. So I've been stuck inside and left to stew over various questions, not the least of which being whether or not I was fooling myself when I decided that leaving Moscow for Buffalo would mean a life under slightly better weather. I'm told it's been sunny and warm in Moscow lately. I saw a dog lying dead from exposure, icicles in his cloudy eyes, outside the Arby's around the corner from my Buffalo home the other day.

One thing I wasn't thinking about when the cold spell began is Michael McFaul. On advice of counsel I had put the good professor out of my mind and have lately resisted the urge to so much as glimpse at the Carnegie site to see what he's up to. But just yesterday an e-mail landed in my inbox from none other than Michael McFaul. The subject line read, "FYI."

I opened it up. There was no personal letter in there, just an e-copy of McFaul's latest idiotic Washington Post opinion piece, this one about the Jackson-Vanik agreement. Considering how our last correspondence had ended (and I'll get to that in a moment), it seemed a very strange thing for him to be sending to me. So I wrote him back:

Michael --

Why did you send this to me? I must be missing something.

Later that day I got his response:

My apologies. You must have creeped into the oped list I keep. I will delete you.

Sincerely, Mike

My first response when I got this letter was to chuckle and immediately go online to look up the Washington Post's circulation information. According to the paper's most recent statistics, the circulation of its daily edition (the McFaul piece, entitled "The Russian Graduate," ran in the B section last Friday) is 802,594. That doesn't count its online readership, nor does it take the Johnson's list into account. That means that despite the fact that nearly a million human beings already had access to McFaul's article, the professor still felt it necessary to mass-e-mail copies of the thing to each and every person who had ever contacted him. Now that, my friends, is funny. Even Gogol would have had a hard time inventing that detail.

Then I looked back at the letter again. Now matter how short a Michael McFaul letter is, it always contains some glaring fuck-up. This one was pretty easy to spot. "Creeped" is not a word. It was pretty easy to see the professor's thought process here. The word he probably meant to use was "sneaked," which of course is a word, despite the fact that, like "creep," it has an alternate irregular past tense form -- "snuck" -- a cropped little word which has the same sort of feel to it as "crept," the word McFaul should have used in his letter to me.

Anyone who has had any extensive contact with McFaul over the years has likely grown used to the fact that the King of Talking Heads has a serious problem with malapropisms, misusages and mixed metaphors. A blisteringly unfriendly correspondence we had in 1998 abruptly ended when I corrected a McFaul e-mail which had contained the phrase "step up to the plate and deliver," noting that, as an infamous cheater in pickup basketball and all-around sporty guy, he probably knew that in baseball, one delivers from the mound, not the plate.

(As a parenthetical aside, I should note that I have a theory about the source of McFaul's usage problems. Freud described malapropisms as unconscious violations of convention, and noted that words used in dreams were almost always the wrong words. The greater the pressure on the psyche, the greater the likelihood that tension will be released in the form of things like malapropisms and Freudian slips. The outer McFaul is the ultimate conformist; these little mistakes might be his tiny individual self crying out for help. It is therefore significant that they are small mistakes; bigger ones might indicate that something more substantial was under the surface.)

Other McFaul letters bear out his inner hostility toward the English language. A few months ago, I sent McFaul a note cheerily informing him that he was about to be the subject of a press review I was writing for the Russia Journal. He sent me back a series of articles that he felt were relevant to the topic I was planning to cover. I of course ignored them and wrote the brutally unfriendly piece about McFaul that he deserves. His wounded response to me a few weeks later (after he had already written and contacted many other persons relevant to the article's release -- but more about that some other time) was a McFaul classic:


Great piece !!! I cant thank you enough for all the free press. And you even got my beigist hairdo in there!

In the spirit of "all above the belt" , I am curious why you simply ignored the materials that I sent you about my use of the word "revolution". I realize that reading books is not your thing, but even you should be able to reading titles of articles and books. Just too inconvenient for your thesis? that I used the word in 1990 and a dozen times since and not in 2000 as you imply? I understand. The facts can be hard to deal with sometimes when you have already developed such a clever take. But in the spirit of "above the belt", I am curious. And by the way, do you write for the opinion page of the Russia Journal or are you a "reporter."

So good to be back in touch,


A few notes about this letter:

  1. I never mentioned McFaul's hairdo in the piece.
  2. Those unnecessary spaces before the exclamation points and other punctuation marks are his own.
  3. I didn't remove the apostrophe in "cant" that should have been there.
  4. I understand what McFaul means by "In the spirit of 'all above the belt,'" but I also understand what it means when my dog drools at the sight of a box of Apple Jacks. This just isn't human English.
  5. Why all the missing question marks? Why the unnecessary question mark in the middle of that one sentence ("Just too inconvenient...")?
  6. If you were going to make a crack about how poorly read someone is, wouldn't you make sure to do it in a sentence that doesn't include a ghastly fuck-up like "even you should be able to reading"?
  7. As our friends at the Chicago Manual of Style note, commas and periods in American usage are always placed inside the quotation marks, regardless of logic or situation. McFaul teaches at Stanford, not Oxford; he makes this mistake three times in this one short letter. That he studied in England is not an excuse. It's more an indictment of the Rhodes scholar program, if anything. It's not like McFaul grew up in Liverpool, for Christ's sake.

There are other, more substantial problems with this letter, most notably this business about his use of the word "revolution" in 1990 (this is a disagreement we have about McFaul's positions vis a vis Russian reform over the years; he is wrong here and he is lying), but I don't think it's nitpicking to focus on these grammar issues. Stanford University is one of the very best schools in the United States. Its professors should be able to communicate clearly in their own language, particularly professors of the humanities. That McFaul cannot write clearly is just more evidence proving what I've long suspected: that this is a person who has succeeded for reasons other than his ideas or his erudition.

I have begun a collection of McFaul correspondence and unedited submissions to newspapers. My plan is to put together a lengthy catalogue of his screw-ups, and then actually travel to Stanford and force the higher-ups to explain to me how a person this poorly-educated could be given tenure.

For this reason I urge all eXile readers who have been in contact with McFaul to send me his letters. You can do so anonymously. You can even steal these letters off the computers of your co-workers, and then send them anonymously. However you do it is okay with us. Just help us bust this guy once and for all; he is becoming a real pain in the ass.

I'm going to close this column with an example of a McFaul letter that does not contain a spelling mistake. It came in response to the following note, which I sent to him a few weeks ago:

Dear Michael,

I've been hearing some pretty bizarre stories about actions you're planning on taking against me and/or the RJ. Are any of them true? If so, please let me know. I'm getting a real kick out of this. I never dreamed that a person in your position would have such thin skin. In fact, it almost makes me sorry that I didn't write about how I fucked your wife. Hope you're enjoying this sunny spring season.

ton bel ami

Matt Taibbi

Of course, I didn't fuck McFaul's wife: that's what the Washington Redskins are for. Nonetheless, McFaul -- after first running like a bitch with frantic complaints to Ajay Goyal and God Knows who else -- sent me a hurt note in response: Michael McFaul

Dear Matt,

By the way, I would appreciate it if you stopped sending me email.

Perhaps your could direct any professional contact you need with me through your editors? I find your comments below repulsive and threatening.


Michael McFaul

I think he meant "you could direct," but one gets the idea. Do you believe this guy? Here's a professor who defends his wife's honor by writing plaintive e-mails to Ajay Goyal -- in bad English. And then, in the same breath as it were, he advises presidents. If that isn't proof enough off how thoroughly strange this world is, then I don't know what else to say. Except this: send me McFaul's letters. Send me everything you can find.

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