Geoffrey Nunberg

Geoffrey Nunberg is a senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford. His most recent book is The Way We Talk Now.

Recent Articles

Label Whores, Take Two:

M y recent article on media bias ["Label Whores: Bernard Goldberg may not be wrong about the presence of bias in the media -- he's just wrong that it's 'liberal,'" TAP , May 6, 2002] touched a number of conservative nerves, as people variously disputed or pooh-poohed my finding that the average liberal has a thirty percent greater likelihood of being given a label in the press than the average conservative does. One response to the piece came from Bernard Goldberg himself, whose bestseller Bias has given wide circulation to the notion that the press define liberals as the mainstream by labeling conservatives far more than they do liberals. In an op-ed piece in the Miami Herald , Goldberg offers two numbers to prove his point about labeling. First, he says that a six-month search of The New York Times showed that the word "conservative" popped up in news stories 1,580 times; "liberal" only 802 times. Well, but so what? Goldberg didn't bother to check how many of those instances of "...

Media: Label Whores

L istening to people complain about bias in the media, you're reminded that there is more than one paranoid style in American politics. While the left has busied itself unpacking interlocking directorates and corporate ownership, the right has made a specialty of close reading, with an extraordinary attentiveness to the nuances of usage and address. There's no better example of this than Bernard Goldberg's claim, in his bestseller Bias , that TV broadcasters "pointedly identify conservative politicians as conservatives" but rarely use the word "liberal" to describe liberals. As Goldberg explained the difference: "In the world of the Jennings and Brokaws and Rathers, conservatives are out of the mainstream and have to be identified. Liberals, on the other hand, are the mainstream and don't have to be identified." To tell the truth, Goldberg's claim about the use of labels didn't sound that implausible to me -- not because I assumed the media were biased, but because the word liberal...

Will Libraries Survive?

Rumors of the death of the brick-and-mortar library have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the digital age has transformed the nature of data storage. But the public library will be a chief agent in providing access to digital information.

I n a Washington Post interview a couple of years ago, Bill Gates discussed his plans to give away the bulk of his fortune and suggested he already had in mind doing with the personal computer "something like what Carnegie did with libraries where he said, 'Okay, books are this empowering thing that people . . . should have access to.' " That was presumably the impetus for the announcement in late 1997 of two grants programs for public libraries, one consisting of $200 million worth of software from the Microsoft Corporation, the other of $200 million from the personal fortunes of Bill and Melinda Gates, directed at providing digital technology and internet access to underserved libraries. Not surprisingly, the announcements engendered a certain skepticism. The grants were described as a public relations ploy, and one moreover from which Gates and Microsoft stood to profit by seeding their technology in the library context. When the matter was raised in the Council of the American...

Will the Internet Always Speak English?

I n 1898, when Otto von Bismarck was an old man, a journalist asked him what he took to be the decisive factor in modern history. He answered, "The fact that the North Americans speak English." In retrospect, he was spot on the mark about the political and economic developments of the twentieth century, and up to now he seems to have been prescient about the development of the technologies that will shape the next one. The Internet was basically an American development, and it naturally spread most rapidly among the other countries of the English-speaking world. Right now, for example, there are roughly as many Internet users in Australia as in either France or Italy, and the English-speaking world as a whole accounts for over 80 percent of top-level Internet hosts and generates close to 80 percent of Internet traffic. It isn't surprising, then, that the Web is dominated by English. Two years ago my colleague Hinrich Schütze and I used an automatic language identification procedure to...

The Internet Filter Farce

W hat if the baseball could repair the window?" reads the headline of a recent ad for myCIO.com. The copy continues: "The Internet caused the problem. It's only fitting it should also provide the solution." As it happens, the advertiser is offering remote management of network security. But the slogan would serve just as well for dozens of other electronic products and services that promise to address the manifold anxieties that the Internet gives rise to--anxieties about hackers, threats to privacy, spam, rumors, commercialism, pornography, fraud, lost work time, or simply the difficulty of finding your way around cyberspace. For every article raising the alarm about one or another of these problems, there's a clutch of software engineers sitting in a loft somewhere trying to turn the concern into a market opportunity. It's an understandable response, given the remarkable achievements of the technology and the hype that accompanies every new innovation...

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