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Scare Quotes and Opinion “Journalism”

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Media, scare quotes, editorial devices, New Republic, Wall Street Journal, Daily Show,

Quotation marks aren’t just for quotes. They can also be used to denote “irony,” according to the AP style guide. A prime example comes on the opinion page of today’s Wall Street Journal. When deriding efforts by Congressional Democrats to pass the current stimulus bill, the editors explain, “the ‘stimulus’ claim is based on something called the Keynesian ‘multiplier,’ which is that each $1 of spending the government ‘injects’ into the economy yields 1.5 times that in greater output.”

The quotes around “stimulus,” “multiplier,” and “injects” are meant to cast doubt on the efficacy of the Democratic economic plan. They also give the feeling of superiority over whatever idea the editors are currently deriding. It’s a tactic used often in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, as Jonathan Chait points out in the New Republic. He writes, “The Journal’s fixation with the scare quote is one of the great journalistic marriages between medium and grammatical device.”

The effect of the scare quotes is similar to when cable news channels put a question mark after statements flashed on screen. As Jon Stewart pointed out on the Daily Show (video below), a question mark allows Fox News to say whatever it wants while retaining a thin veil of objectivity. When they broadcast a statement like, “Is the liberal media helping to fuel terror?” They make it seem as though they’re exploring the idea, instead of simply stating it. That’s why Stewart asked, “The question mark: A prophalactic protecting fox news from anything it might contract during its extensive GOP c**ksucking?” He wasn’t making that statement, he was just asking.