Saturday, April 30, 2016

Words Have Meaning

I just watched some footage of a riot that happened outside the venue of a Donald Trump event in California. There were hundreds of Mexican flags in the air, police cruisers rocking back and forth, and wild eyed young men perched on the top of street lights. A man wearing a Donald Trump t-shirt had a face covered in blood.


 Oddly, the term "riot" was nowhere to be found in the LATimes story. No, these were demonstrators, and what I was looking at was a protest. Later, on Twitter I found a photograph of the same intersection, hours later after everything was over, not a soul in sight. A reporter from the LATimes made this comment..."Looks like the Donald Trump storm has passed."

If at some point in the long, hot summer which we are facing, a picture emerges of a woman wearing a Hillary Clinton t-shirt with blood all over her face, I will be watching carefully for the word demonstrators, and the description of events as a protest. What I am much more likely to see are the words violence, and the more apt descriptor, riot.

See, I'm a word guy. Language has power, and the words chosen in a news story mean everything. When largely white college students celebrating their football team winning the Sugar Bowl destroy public property, they will most likely be described as revelers. But if the unhinged crowd is mostly black, the word thug will probably find its way into the story. On the other hand, if a young black man murders a white kid, the New York Times will go to great links not to mention either's race...if they report the story at all. But, if the victim is black and the shooter white, every reporter in the building is scrambling to trumpet the headline, because there's a Pulitzer to be won. 

When it comes to political protests, it matters very much who's ox is being gored. Let's not kid ourselves, the number of members of the mainstream media in this country who would ever be caught dead voting for a Republican are about the same as the number of Episcopalians who attend monster truck shows! For the media, covering a protest at a Donald Trump event is the journalistic equivalent of nirvana...something close to heaven. But something tells me that later this summer, when the temperatures and the rhetoric have both gotten much hotter, the media's objectivity, or lack thereof will be sorely tested. I'll be paying close attention to their language. You should too.