Everyday Language

Journalists often fret over objectivity and neutrality, but the very language they use to report their "objective" stories undercut the possibility of these goals from the start.

The headline for a story by Daily Finance's Jeff Bercovici last week read "NPR Retires 'Pro-Life' and 'Pro-Choice' in Futile Attempt at Neutrality." The piece reports NPR's new policy to avoid those terms and instead use "in favor of abortion rights" and "opposed to abortion rights." Bercovici argues that we already know what pro-life and pro-choice mean, we use them in conversation, they sum up the positions of the two camps, and therefore to try to take some of the charge out of the positions by giving them a new name is misguided and will only end up confusing things. He says pro-life and pro-choice "mean what they mean because we all agree that's what they mean," which he calls a "common-sense approach to language."

NPR's Managing Editor, David Sweeney, said in a memo to reporters that the changes are "aimed at ensuring the words we speak and write are as clear, consistent and neutral as possible." And in that sense, the change in terms does not succeed: pro-life and pro-choice are two very politically charged terms, but the issues behind them are obviously just as charged. Rather, the new language makes sense because of the very fact that these are not the accepted terms. As Bercovici points out, "it's not as if 'abortion rights' itself is a neutral phrase," but in the case of reproductive rights, each side is so entrenched in their positions and repeat the same talking points and use the same, politicized terms over and over, so its the media's duty to step back and reframe the argument in different language. The problem is that language has never been purely objective, and it's certainly not neutral in this age of military doublespeak and a self-serving corporate lexicon. The new NPR guidelines therefore open up greater room for debate by explaining the different positions in new ways, not more neutral ways.

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

James Patterson on writing: Plotting, research, and first drafts

The best-selling author tells us his methods.

  • James Patterson has sold 300 million copies of his 130 books, making him one of the most successful authors alive today.
  • He talks about how some writers can overdo it by adding too much research, or worse, straying from their outline for too long.
  • James' latest book, The President is Missing, co-written with former President Bill Clinton, is out now.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

Why the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner won’t feature a comedian in 2019

It's the first time the association hasn't hired a comedian in 16 years.

(Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
Culture & Religion
  • The 2018 WHCA ended in controversy after comedian Michelle Wolf made jokes some considered to be offensive.
  • The WHCA apologized for Wolf's jokes, though some journalists and many comedians backed the comedian and decried arguments in favor of limiting the types of speech permitted at the event.
  • Ron Chernow, who penned a bestselling biography of Alexander Hamilton, will speak at next year's dinner.
Keep reading Show less