The War of Words

The latest political jargon to come parachuting out of the Bush
administration and onto the front pages of newspapers around the
country is the word ‘surge.’ The term has the advantage of seeming
unavoidable, forceful, and quick — like a power surge or a storm
surge. Yet it’s vague and fresh enough to avoid conjuring past
military rhetoric, such as the doomed ‘escalation’ of the Vietnam
War.

The phrase ”surge option” first appeared in newsprint in
November, when the
New
York
Times (registration required) quoted anonymous
Pentagon officials on Bush’s plans to send an additional 20,000
troops to Iraq. Since then, ‘surge’ has slipped comfortably into
media coverage, sometimes shedding the quotes that put it squarely
in the administration’s mouth.

That’s a troubling development, say media watchers. In a
political culture where the slightest difference in terms can shift
meaning and determine support, the distinction between Bush’s
‘surge’ and the Democrat-favored ‘escalation’ is an important one.
And it’s a distinction that even the so-called bastion of liberal
media stands accused of fumbling. The watchdog group
Media Matters recently chided the New York
Times
for a piece citing the Democrats’ motives for using
‘escalation’ — i.e., presenting the increase in troops in a
‘negative light’ — but failing to similarly investigate the spin
behind ‘surge.’

Of course, this isn’t a problem unique to the New York
Times
. Nor is it the first time the media have found
themselves caught in the crossfire of Bush’s rhetoric. As Gal
Beckerman reminds readers (many of them journalists) in a piece for
the Columbia Journalism Review‘s
CJR Daily, the spin-infused ‘surge’ is
the latest lingo to join an obfuscating vocabulary that includes
‘the war on terror.’

It is imperative, Beckerman argues, that journalists avoid the
tendency to abridge the tricky concepts wrapped up in these
phrases; their responsibility is to sift through the partisan
rhetoric. ‘The press is the arbiter of our public discourse, and as
such must take care to disentangle spin from substance whenever it
encounters it — as a service to the readers and viewers who dip
into and out of this discourse,’ he writes. ‘The use of quotation
marks around words and phrases like ‘surge’ and ‘war on terror’ is
the minimum journalists can do to alert the public that what you
see is rarely what you get.’

Go there >>
Parsing the ‘Surge’

Go there, too >>
NY Timesreported soley
on Dems’ use of ‘escalation,’ ignored political significance of
‘surge’

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