You would think that members of the news media, of all people, would understand the power of words. Making their living as they do, with words, you would expect them to choose those words carefully, cognizant of innuendo and not just meaning.
Over and over again, reporters and editors—print and broadcast—take the easy route. They use the words that are handed to them, the simple words, the short words, the words that someone else has generated and wants them to use.
Sometimes, often in politics, those are also loaded words. They carry a freight of innuendo that goes far beyond the obvious meaning.
Parsing the Caravan
Let’s parse the currently popular phrase Caravan of Migrants. Here are the definitions.
- Caravan: “A company of travelers journeying together, especially across a desert.”
- Migrant: “(1) One that moves from one region to another by chance, instinct, or plan. (2) An itinerant worker who travels from one area to another in search of work.”
These words have a purpose. We are meant to believe that the “caravan of migrants” is comprised of rootless, shiftless workers seeking to enter the United States so they can take advantage of our social support programs and healthcare without, you know, actually working. Every time the press uses that phrase, they reinforce that impression.
Central American has no desert, although Mexico does. And the possibility of employment does not motivate these people. They seek safety from gang warfare, violence, rape, and death threats.
Refugees and Asylum
Let’s substitute another term: “Flow of Refugees Seeking Asylum.”
- Refugee: “A person who flees, usually to another country for refuge, especially from invasion, oppression, or persecution.”
This more accurately describes what is driving these mothers and fathers. Why else would they take children and toddlers on a long, dangerous trek across thousands of miles without shelter or security, clean water or a steady food supply?
It requires a pretty powerful motivation like a threat of death to themselves or their children to drive people from their homes and flee with their families into the jungle.
I won’t get into the politics of this event or whether I agree with those policies. My point—and I do have one—is that the journalists are abdicating their responsibility to report on events accurately. Instead of analyzing the situation and applying the correct words to it, they have chosen to accept and replicate the words provided by the administration.
This is shameful.
Words Have Power
I understand—and have commented before—on how well Republicans choose words that will manipulate emotions to generate fear of and anger about something they oppose. Terms like “entitlements,” “partial-birth abortion,” “death tax” and “alternate facts” do not emerge on their own. They are created purposefully to achieve a particular effect.
Democrats have proven themselves clueless in this regard, stubbornly thinking that only facts and logic are required, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
But journalists play a whole different role when it comes to the accuracy of language. Words have meaning and power that should be respected by those who have a duty to employ them with precision.
Politicians may employ “truthiness” and “alternate facts.” The news media cannot, in good conscience, play along. Yet they do. Every day. It infuriates people like me, who see how lazy reporting and editing result in the witless dissemination of propaganda.
The Slap-Your-Hand Award for News Media
Given that no one else has done it, I am creating the “Slap-Your-Hand Award” for lazy reporting, writing, editing and broadcasting by the mainstream media. Today, I am giving the Slappy to every broadcast news station, cable and network, except for Fox News. They are already a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP Administration and thus have the dissemination of propaganda in their mission statement.
I am also awarding the Slappy to major newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. The Wall Street Journal is exempted for the same reason as Fox News. Ironically, both were founded by an immigrant. But he came in a private jet.
Think the news media will listen and pay attention? Yeah, I’m not holding my breath, either.
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