Social Security 2: Language and Political Bias

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AARP recently conducted a survey on Social Security privatization, but the findings didn't make Republicans happy. As AARP CEO Bill Novelli summarized, "A lack of knowledge about private accounts is a dangerous thing. [...] When people are exposed to the full details of private accounts, support falls to only 5 percent."

GOP spinmesiter Frank Luntz (architect of 1994's "Contract with America") was interviewed on Air America, and complained that the media are still using the now-disfavored phrase "private accounts" instead of the shiny new "personal accounts" (supplanted just this week by "individual accounts") which apparently polls even better. Luntz whined about the media still referring to "private accounts:"

"It's one of the reasons why the American people don't trust the media. If the media wants to engage in the debate, let it say so. [...] ...let them state a point of view, and people know that they're not getting the journalistic report, they're getting the opinion of the left wing, the right wing, because there are journalists on both sides..."

Yes, you read that right: if the media don't use the exact language that Republicans decree, then they're stating a point of view. Of course, if they simply repeat the GOP talking points, then they're objective. The New York Times' David Rosenbaum mentions, "I don't see any difference between private, personal, or individual. [...] I'm sorry the White House doesn't like the word 'private' because it doesn't poll well...[but] that's just too bad." Thomas Lang of Columbia Journalism Review echoes this sentiment:

"In truth, both 'private accounts' and 'personal accounts' are an accurate description of what the president appears ready to propose. But in making a choice between the two, journalists -- unlike politicians -- shouldn't pay attention to which phrase polls best with the public."

Check out CJR's "Campaign Desk" for a partial Washington Post interview with Bush, demonstrating that he doesn't even remember that "private accounts" was ever the preferred spin. (It was apparently dropped down the memory hole sometime between mid-December and now.)

CampaignDesk also notes that:

"Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman sent a fund-raising email out Wednesday morning telling supporters that donations are needed 'to get the president's message past the liberal media filter and directly to the American people.' Funny, isn't it, how at the same time the administration gets busted for paying off columnists to tout its programs, all of a sudden it needs cash to 'get past' the media. [...] According to this logic, it's not the administration's policies that draw the heat, it's just that darn media filter which keeps reporting those inconvenient facts."

Maybe the administration's continuing propaganda scandals will help Kennedy and Lautenberg's "Stop Government Propaganda Act" pass the Senate, and put an end to the more egregious episodes. If not, Bush can just increase his PR spending; after all, it's only twice what it was under Clinton.

When did the media's responsibility switch from reporting the facts to helping the Bush administration sell its agenda to the public?

Thanks for reading.


Quotes of the Day:

"It has long been right-wing strategy to repeat over and over phrases that evoke their frames and define issues their way. Such repetition makes their language normal, everyday language and their frames normal, everyday ways to think about issues. Reporters have an obligation to notice when they are being taken for a ride and they should refuse to go along."

George Lakoff (Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, p. 50)



"When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful.

A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity. "

George Orwell ("Politics and the English Language," 1946)

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on January 28, 2005 9:43 PM.

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