- - Friday, October 31, 2014


If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, you better be sure that calling it a duck is still acceptable. It doesn’t matter that it was a duck last week. Heck, last week, men who think they’re men and women who think they’re women were known as “normal.” Now they’re “cisgendered.” So you should probably find out how Daffy “identifies” before applying a label.

Progressives and their media water boys use language as a weapon. Their success often depends on changing the terms of the debate — and not just when they’re flinging new letters into the alphabet soup of modern sexuality. Remember when the Obama administration’s “jobs created” benchmark suddenly became “jobs saved or created?”

Americans once debated “same-sex marriage.” That was so 2013. Today, that debate is over, we’re told, and 5,000 years of civilization lost. Blame the feel-good, biology-avoiding term “marriage equality.” If you do, though, you’re not pro-marriage or pro-traditional marriage. You’re “anti-gay.” See how that works?

Liberals expertly apply the tactic to an array of issues, including those confronting Americans as we head into the midterms. The media know the game and help frame the debate. What follows is a guide to three of the issues at play this election and the use and abuse of the language involved in them.

Abortion: Back in 1990, Los Angeles Times writer David Shaw did a thorough expose on the media’s bias in framing the abortion debate, finding “scores of examples, large and small, that can only be characterized as unfair to the opponents of abortion, either in content, tone, choice of language or prominence of play.” Not much has changed.

For a long time the language battle over abortion was about “choice.” After all, everybody likes having choices. “Pro-choice” takes the A-word out of play, allowing users not to think about the human life at stake. Now, “women’s health” is the left’s favorite euphemism for contraception and abortion. The identity politics of the “women’s health” packaging fits neatly into the “war on women” canard; what kind of misogynistic creep could be against healthy women?

It also helps push the left’s new tack; namely, characterizing abortion as if it were a rite of passage or, at worst, as morally significant as a dentist visit. Writing in The Washington Post, former abortion activist Janet Harris argued that abortion is never “immoral” or even a “difficult” decision to make, because it’s (wait for it) a “women’s health” issue. Also in The Post, blogger Carter Eskew called abortion “a deeply affirmative value.” Really.

Islamic terrorists: In the case of Islamic terror, if you point out that the duck quacked, the media instinctively deny it. If it quacks again, they’ll say, yes, but not because it’s a duck. It quacked to protest Western cultural imperialism, and it suspects we just want the oil under its pond.

Recently, when an Oklahoma Muslim man beheaded one co-worker and attacked another while yelling Islamic phrases, the media did everything they could to downplay the radical Islam aspect of the killing. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry called the act “workplace violence,” while NBC stood out for not mentioning the killer’s religion even once in its nightly news broadcast of the story.

The refusal to accurately characterize Muslim terrorism is of a piece with President Obama’s absurd claim that the Islamic State isn’t Islamic, but going back at least as far as Sept. 11, 2001, the media have been frantically whitewashing Islamic terrorism. The networks have been too afraid to mention Islam as spurring Hamas, Boko Haram and the Islamic State, or to even report violence as “terrorism.”

In reporting on Hamas, the networks’ preferred terms are “militants” “extremists” or “fighters” at a rate of nine to one over terrorists. In the recent Gaza war, the big three networks called Hamas “militants,” “fighters” or “soldiers” 13 times more often than they called them terrorists (65 to five). This despite the fact that the State Department has actually designated the group as a terrorist organization since 1997.

Illegal immigration: You can’t call these waterfowl ducks because you’ll hurt their feelings and, more important, you’ll remind people why this is an issue to begin with.

In 2011, the Society of Professional Journalists, spurred by radical lefty activists in its ranks, adopted a resolution discouraging members from using the term “illegal” when referring to illegal immigrants. The nonsensical reasoning was that under the Constitution, only a court could decide whether someone had done something illegal and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. SPJ’s preferred term is “undocumented worker,” though it presumably would also take a court to determine whether a worker is indeed undocumented.

Since then, the media have eagerly adopted the language of the left. Recently, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi even berated a CNS journalist for using the term “illegal” instead of “undocumented.” The networks almost exclusively use “undocumented workers” to describe illegal immigrants.

There are many other issues lefty language obfuscates — from “overseas contingency operation” to “government investment” — each less illuminating than the last, and some even too ridiculous for the media to parrot. It’s what they do, though. So if classifying aquatic birds is your thing, don’t listen to liberals.

Matt Philbin is managing editor of MRC Culture, a division of the Media Research Center. Kristine Marsh helped prepare this column.

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