Words Matter: How “Journalists” Push Policy

screen_shot_2019-03-19_at_3.49.42_pmWords matter because they have meaning.  So when someone combines carefully chosen words (not necessarily accurate, but nonetheless precise) with the proper delivery and just the right timing, the message we hear often hides the distortion that has been delivered.

Take Chuck Todd’s segue on Meet The Press April 19 prior to his segment with Gov’s Whitmer of Michigan and Dewine of Ohio.  He pointed out that President Trump has deferred to the States Governors to decide when and how to reopen their economies. This was followed by the statement, [some governors] “are being pressured by what appears to be coordinated anti-distancing campaigns from the right.”

Sounds kind of negative and borderline sinister!  Let’s dissect this.

First, the POTUS does not have the constitutional authority (limited by the enumerated powers clause) to close non-federal local schools and businesses; only State Government can do so.  By extension, the president cannot reopen various states’ economies.  President Trump is using the principle of federalism.  So why mention that he has left it up to the Governors unless to imply that the POTUS had a better choice, but elected not to exercise it?

Second, let’s examine the way he uses the words, “pressured…from the right”. When I hear “pressured” used that way, I generally assume that the pressure is being applied unjustly or excessively.  The term “push-back” is more often used when the speaker wants to convey a legitimate resistance.  Why did he chose “pressure” instead of “push-back” or “civil disobedience”?  Consider that maybe the goal was to frame the shut-down policies as the only right approach, and any talk to the contrary as being unreasonable. The term, “right” implies all those in favor of getting back to work in a safe manner were made up of a monolith solely on the political right. Nothing could be further from the truth here in Michigan.

News flash: The discontent started way before the talk of reopening and about the time people started to realize the cure for the virus was worse than the disease; and amplified by many arbitrary and capricious prohibitions within areas of very light virus case burden.

Third, let’s look at the word “coordinated”.  The term is fine.  Thousands of people didn’t just happen to be in the state Capitols at the exact same time protesting the same issue. But coordinated doesn’t mean top-down, as implied by the phrase “from the right”.  This was a citizen-led grassroots organized protest; not a political rally where people were paid to be bused-in to carry pre-made signs. Why not describe it for what is was, a group(s) exercising their Rights to petition the government regarding grievances.

And last, “…anti-distancing campaign…”.  This is probably the most telling and interesting part of what Chuck Todd said.  I can’t think of a better phrase to distort the meaning of the protest and to paint the protester in a negative light, than to label them “anti-distancing”, given the near dogmatic acceptance of social distancing as the only way to combat the virus. The truth is, this was not an “anti-distancing” protest nor a protest against being safe or against protecting the most vulnerable.  This was a protest against policy-gone-wild and the real fear that it went too far by taking one-size-fits-no-one approach with draconian prohibitions that went far beyond “flattening the curve” so we didn’t overwhelm the healthcare system. That goal was met and the fear that drove the mantra was found to be over-stated.

The ability of millions of citizens to earn a living and provide for their families and keep businesses afloat (and the jobs that accompany those businesses) was severely compromised by overly aggressive, often coercive and sometimes punitive restrictions on basic freedoms.  The negative fallout from the lock-down of 2020 will continue to pile up long after the risk from the virus has been forgotten. More people may end up being harmed by the disruptions in healthcare delivery caused by shut-downs of “non-essential” medical services than were saved by focusing on COVID19 at the exclusion of most everything else.

Beware of partisans pretending to be journalists.  They are very good at hiding their agenda using word-craft. Don’t believe everything you read and only half of what you hear.  Breakdown the words.  This is the only way to know if they accurately reflect the facts or if it the words represent a linguistic mirage designed to distort reality and cause you to make conclusions you would not come to on your own.

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