Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Names Matter

Jon Carroll, columnist for the SF Chronicle, is sometimes the best thing about slogging through my early morning routine (making lunches, prising The Young out of their nests, pretending to be awake myself). His piece today was about journalistic choices. He had me all the way to the second to last graph, and then I got lost.

That's what makes this information business so hard. Everything is a judgment call; there are no rules -- or rather, what is a rule today will not be a rule tomorrow. I'll give you an example: This paper and the New York Times both ban the term "pro-life" to describe the anti-abortion movement. I think that's a terrible idea because it is the only term that gives you a real sense of what the fight looks like from the anti-choice side. That's what they think the stakes are, like it or not.

Well, yes. I think that's exactly what they think the stakes are. And it's what I think the stakes are, too. But I'm on the other side of the issue, and if I call myself "pro-life" people are going to get confused. Letting the anti-choice people claim "pro-life" by default defines me as "pro-death," to which I take extreme exception. It permits them to set the discourse in a particularly unpleasant way. So I say, "Go, NY Times and SF Chronicle" on this one.


Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

Carroll hasn't thought the matter through. Should newspapers have called the Contras "freedom fighters" because the Contras so style themselves?

The argument that using these names gives readers a chance to understand the partisan's self-image is also silly: news coverage of abortion makes clear that anti-abortionists think of themselves as "pro-life."

3:55 AM  

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