Today in D.C. History: Marion Barry Plays Role of D.C.’s Chief Wordsmith
On Feb. 26, 1986, then-Mayor Marion Barry held a special meeting of more than 100 D.C. government employees, to announce a new list of "10 or 15 words" that would be in every press release issued by the D.C. government. The list consisted of words designed to cast city officials (including Barry) in a more "favorable" light. Some of the words included "competence, compassion, effective, efficient."
In explaining the new directive, Barry noted that the D.C. press corps had been harsh toward him and the city, and he hoped these new press release directives would help counter the problem. As Washington City Paper reported in the March 7, 1986, issue of Loose Lips:
Barry also said he intensely dislikes reporters because they all think of themselves as investigative reporters and tend to distort stories to make him look bad. To counter his negative press, Barry told the assembled, "I always say good things about myself. Enough people say bad things about me. I tell the truth, but I embellish it."
Barry also ordered the assembled employees to never apologize for his tardiness, saying, "don’t ever apologize for the mayor being late." When someone noted Barry’s tardiness at an embassy party a few nights before the meeting, Barry joked: "I may be late this year, but next year I’m not coming at all."