David Wong, writing in Cracked, lists “5 ways to spot a B.S. Political Story”. He highlights certain words that appear in political headlines, and what they often signify. It would be easy to blame this on lazy journalists; however, it’s really very easy to find yourself repeating the same phrases that are familiar to you. And it’s a huge hindrance to writing about politics. George Orwell famously advised in his essay Politics and the English Language:
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Great advice, and so naturally very difficult to heed. I’ve probably fallen back on time-worn phrases countless times in writing this blog. As people acquire language largely through imitation, it’s only natural that we fall easily into imitation when using it.
Wong also laments how stories often couch everything purely in terms of political points scored. He writes of the headline “Slowdown in U.S. jobs growth deals a blow to Obama.”:
How about the millions of people who are out of work? Hey, guys, I don’t know if you realize this, but the world actually exists. Those numbers on the screen represent actual humans who are actually suffering. No, really! It’s not a video game!
The reason the press has to couch everything in this manner is simple: otherwise, they get called for political bias. Wong talks about stories that treat, for example, the healthcare law as merely a political “horse-race” issue, but the poor writers have only two other options:
- Write headlines like “Supreme Court to render millions uninsured”–a headline which would cause all the Republicans to gripe even more than usual about “liberal bias”, and whine that this was “value-laden language”.
- Capitulate to the Republicans entirely and write headlines like “Supreme Court to free millions from yoke of socialism”.
The first thing will never happen, because hell hath no fury like a Republican who is mad at the press. The second thing is out at every news source that has some interest in the truth. So, all that’s left is the horse-race approach. After all, no one can complain that it’s biased.