Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Toward A New Clarity Of Language

With conventional media fighting an ever-growing juggernaut of fake news, news that is either outright lie or gross distortion, two national journals have joined a growing chorus in refusing to use the euphemism alt-right: The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail.

After much discussion and input, Kathy English, The Star's Public Editor, reports the following:
... several senior Star editors met to discuss this issue. In order to seek some measure of consistency, we decided to consult further with our main wire services – The Canadian Press and the U.S. based Associated Press.

This week, both services issued “style notes” on how to refer to the self-labeled alt-right....

The main points to guide Star journalists in writing and editing:

Avoid using alt-right generically.
“We should strive to be accurate and precise, and at least for now, the term ‘alt-right.’ is neither. Terms like ‘white nationalist’ or ‘white supremacist’ are known, accurate and much clearer to readers.”

If you use the term alt-right, define it.
“Phrasing like ‘the ‘alt-right,’ a white nationalist movement’ is appropriate.”

... the Associated Press provided a clear definition of the alt-right, telling us that it’s a name embraced by “some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States.”

And, it adds, “the movement criticizes ‘multiculturalism’ and more rights for non-whites, women, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants and other minorities. Its members reject the American democratic ideal that all should have equality under the law regardless of creed, gender, ethnic origin or race.”

With all that’s at stake here, journalists must not rely on euphemistic words that gloss over racism and hate. As the AP rightly tells us, be specific and call it straight: “We should not limit ourselves to letting such groups define themselves, and instead should report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them.”

Language matters. It is our job as journalists to provide readers with accurate, clear and precise words that tell it like it is, not veil reality. We should not serve as unquestioning heralds for those who espouse ideology abhorrent to universal values of equality.

To be clear: the so-called alt-right stands for white supremacy. By any definition, that is racism.
In an abbreviated form, The Globe's Sylvia Stead says essentially the same thing.

While I regularly consult a number of alternative news sites, all of which enjoy sterling reputations, it would be foolish to suggest that the days of mainstream media are over. Now, more than ever, journalists toiling in conventional media may be our last highly visible bulwark against a rising tide of darkness, division, and devolution.


  1. I shall follow suit and call a spade a spade.

    1. We all have a role to play in this, Owen. Language can be used either as a tool or as a weapon. Euphemisms, when they are used for political purposes, usually fall into the latter category.

  2. Hell, Lorne, what was wrong with "Conservative Party"?

    1. Another euphemism par excellence, Mound.

  3. I generally agree with the intent. I just worry that in calling the "alt-right" mere "white nationalists" or "racists", we lose sight of the fact that the movement is hugely misogynist as well. In fact, "white nationalist" is sort of vague and antiseptic as well.

    1. A very good point, Anon. I too think 'white nationalists' is too kind. 'White supremacists' seems more fitting. As to their misogyny, I'm not sure how one could include it without sacrificing the kind of brevity favoured in journalism.