In just about everything, language matters.
“We need to put the gun metaphors away and permanently,” intoned (then) MSNBC personality Keith Olbermann on Jan. 8, the night Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona had been shot.
For his part, the anchor seemed mostly concerned with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. If she “does not repudiate her own part in amplifying violence and violent imagery in politics, she must be dismissed from politics -- she must be repudiated by the members of her own party, and if they fail to do so, each one of them must be judged to have silently defended this tactic that today proved so awfully foretelling, and they must in turn be dismissed by the responsible members of their own party,” Olbermann warned in one long, run on sentence.
Palin’s “foretelling” “tactic” had been to put a bull’s eye on Giffords and encourage her supporters to vote against the congresswoman. In other words: politics as practiced down through the decades.
Echoing Olbermann, some journalists tried their best to avoid martial metaphors. A CNN reporter started to ask a leader of Arizona’s Tea Party of he believed he been “targeted,” but she managed to stop halfway through the word and replace it with “singled out.”
But within weeks, it was back to business as usual. In National Journal magazine, Ron Brownstein wrote, “As President Obama confronts a resurgent Republican Party, he finds himself fighting a two-front war.” War, you say?
Elsewhere, on Feb. 27 columnist Dana Milbank of the Washington Post opined that “Under [Gov. Scott] Walker’s tribal political theory, governing is a never-ending cycle of revenge killings.”
The point here isn’t to compile a list of journalists who’ve used violent imagery. We’d run out of space before we ran out of examples. The point is that we should insist that reporters and politicians alike use words accurately, so voters can be sure they’ll get what they’re promised. Consider one example: “affordable housing.”
The Obama administration recently unveiled tentative plans to eventually shut down housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and allow private lenders to control the housing market once again. This swiftly raised complaints from the Left.
“My underlying concern is that they may radically increase the cost of homeownership, and housing in general, over the coming years,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told reporters. Well, if it’s affordable housing Waters wants, she need only look around.