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What's in a name?

Oh, That Liberal Media provides an example of one of those media code phrases used by journalists when they want to sneer at a colorful description of a particular group or practice:

OK. Good set up against a heinous, barbaric practice, right? Well, um, maybe not. 'Cause in the eighth paragraph we read the following (emphasis mine):
This was something her mother had done before her. She started as an apprentice while still an adolescent by holding down girls' legs for her mother to perform the rite, which opponents call genital mutilation. "I thought my mother would curse me from the grave if I didn't carry on the tradition," she said.
As James Taranto notes (to whom goes the hat tip for this entry), this is yet another example of "...the press's use of Orwellian language to promote an attitude of moral relativism--Reuters' policy that "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter" and the pervasive formulation "what opponents call 'partial-birth abortion'. "
That the media uses this phrasing wouldn't be so bad, if it were used consistently. Of course, it never is; when the media agrees with a characterization, they adopt it as their own. In a New York Times piece on a campaign by death penalty opponents to punish doctors who participate in executions, Adam Liptak uses this description:
Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the director of health research for the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, said Dr. Rao and others like him should be disciplined. "The state medical boards should just yank the licenses of these people," Dr. Wolfe said.
(Emphasis added.) To his credit, Liptak does point out that this has nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with opposition to the death penalty. But what is it with the Times that every group to the right of the ACLU is described as "right wing" or "conservative" or the like, but Public Citizen is described as a "consumer advocacy organization"? How about "Public Citizen, what supporters call a consumer advocacy organization," or "Public Citizen, the self-described consumer advocacy organization"? Or "Public Citizen, the purported consumer advocacy organization that's actually a left-wing lobbying group and a front for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America"?

It's bad enough that they pretend that Public Citizen is a neutral consumer advocacy group in articles about consumer advocacy. But Wolfe is conducting his anti-death penalty campaign not in an individual capacity, but in his role as a Public Citizen official. Whether one supports or opposes the death penalty, an honest person would have to admit that it has nothing to do with consumer advocacy. And yet the Times blithely goes on describing them as if they were an apolitical group with no hidden agenda.


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Comments (4)


Jeff Jacoby had an op-ed in the Boston Globe last weekend with a similar gist.


He had the (mostly) good examples of "assault weapons", "right to choose", "hate crimes", "gun lobby", "homophobia", and "campaign finance reform" as loaded left-wing terms that get adopted as standard terminology.

Personally, I think that "left-wing consumer advocacy organization" would be redundant, given that those groups are led by the likes of Ralph Nader and support (almost by definition) price controls and government safety regulations. I would say that labelling it just a "consumer advocacy organization" is clear enough, or at worst, an imperfect but excusable abbreviation.

Or maybe I'm mistaken -- is there such a thing as a "neutral consumer advocacy group"?


Or maybe I'm mistaken -- is there such a thing as a "neutral consumer advocacy group

Good point Poop. One of my (many!) pet peeves is when the news media publishes the findings of an advocacy group as if it were unbiased. For example they will report on a study by an anti-death penalty group that finds (surprise, surprise) that executions do not deter murder. What else would one expect from such a group? Now if they reported on a study by an anti-death penalty group that found that executions deter murder, then I would think that rates a news story!

If the news media really feels that it is necessary to report the findings of an advocacy group, they should at least put a disclaimer that states that the advocacy group claims that a particular study shows whatever it is they are advocating. However, the only time they will report a study that way, if they report it at all, is when it is done by an advocacy group that the news media does not agree with. For example, donít hold you breath waiting for the NY Times to report that a study done by the NRA shows that gun ownership deters crime. Not only would they provide a disclaimer, they would get statements from five other groups that stated that the study was bogus.

Yes, Poop, "left-wing consumer advocacy" is somewhat redundant. But their claim to be consumer advocates is somewhat dubious. Ralph Nader claims to be advocating for me as a consumer, but I'd much rather he leave me alone and let me make my own decisions about what I want to buy.

Yes, Poop, "left-wing consumer advocacy" is somewhat redundant.

Practically speaking, but not inherently so. For instance, a group that lobbied against zoning restrictions that keep Walmarts out of town would be a consumer advocacy group. It wouldn't fit the stereotypical image of a leftist anti-business organization, but it would nevertheless be advocating for the benefit of consumers.


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