Shame On Journalists for Forgetting Orwell

In his timeless essay ''Politics and the English Language,'' George Orwell explored how
manipulation of words can change how people think. Orwell noted Stalin's use of the word
''liquidation'' as a delicate synonym for execution of political enemies among several other
examples.

Generations of freshman English students and aspiring journalists have read their Orwell and are
supposedly alert to propagandistic euphemisms. But judging by recent successful spin-doctoring of
language, many editors and writers could use a refresher course in their Orwell. Herewith, some notable
examples:

Prolife. All of us can be described as prolife. Most Americans don't like abortion but don't consider it
murder, and support a woman's right to have one. But the antiabortion lobby has succeeded in
appropriating the phrase ''right to life.'' Conventional usage has become ''prolife'' versus ''prochoice.''
Both terms are propagandistic. An accurate substitute would be antiabortion groups versus
abortion-rights groups. Otherwise, the antiabortion lobby gets a lock on approving life.

Faith-based. Shame on the nation's journalists for taking an Orwellian term on faith. President Bush
wants to allow tax dollars to support religious institutions that provide social services. This is called
''faith-based.''

In fact, many churches already get government support to provide such services as child care.
Religious-affiliated hospitals get Medicare dollars. But current policy insists on a strict separation
between a church's religious mission and its services subsidized by taxpayer money. This is the wall
Bush would tear down.

''Faith'' has a warm, fuzzy sound. It tests nicely in focus groups. But the real issue here is not ''faith'' but
government support of religion, something prohibited by the Constitution. Any time a gullible reporter
is naive enough to use the phrase ''faith-based'' as objective rather than propagandistic usage, an editor
should change it to the correct adjective - ''religious.''

Death Tax. The right made a valiant effort to get reporters and commentators to refer to the tax on large
estates as a ''death tax.'' Some recognized this for what it was, but a surprisingly large number just lazily
adopted the propagandistic usage.

Even though only 2 percent of estates are large enough to be taxed, the ploy helped do the job. As part
of the Bush tax cut, the estate tax will be phased out over 10 years.

Tuition Support. This is the most recent offender, and it seems to have flown entirely beneath
journalists radar. President Bush is promoting public school vouchers. Schools deemed substandard
would lose part of their public funding. Parents would receive vouchers to pay part of the cost of
putting their kids into private schools.

This is a highly controversial program. There is no evidence that voucher schools do any better than
public ones. Vouchers also divert money from free public education. The administration has stopped
using the word ''vouchers,'' which has the effect of conveying accurately what is being proposed.
Instead, they invented the benign-sounding term ''tuition support.'' This is Orwellian because with
public education there is no need for tuition support; public schools are free.

Major papers took the bait. The New York Times, just as the White House hoped, now uses ''tuition
support'' as a neutral descriptive word. The administration uses the same ploy with its effort to
voucherize Medicare, which is now termed ''premium support'' to disguise the raid on a universal
service.

PNTR. For a century, trade law has had a category known as most-favored-nation treatment. This
means that a given nation receives the same trade concessions (such as no tariffs) as the
most-favored-nation with which the United States deals. Other nations get less favorable treatment.

In trying to get Congress to approve MFN treatment for China, the Clinton and Bush administrations
changed the concept to ''permanent normal trade relations.'' This seems innocent enough, but note two
subtle effects. First, note the addition of the word permanent. Traditionally, there is nothing permanent
about most-favored-nation treatment. Secondly, there is no such thing as normal.

Lots of nations, such as Cuba and Russia and Iraq, are treated differently because they don't play by the
rules (as China doesn't). But in a gullible usage shift that Orwell would have appreciated, all the papers
and networks seamlessly started using PNTR.

As we look forward to the Fourth of July celebrating this nation's independence, let's recall the words of
the abolitionist Wendell Phillips. ''Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.'' Words are the stock in trade
of journalists, and nobody should be more vigilant. Otherwise, we become unwitting propagandists, and
the liberty of our readers erodes.

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