A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer announced they would no longer call the vote recount in Arizona, or attempts to do a recount in Pennsylvania or anywhere else, an ‘audit.’ An investigation, yes. A probe or a review, sure, though often with the qualifier ‘partisan.’ A box explaining this decision is supposed to appear in every article dealing with the subject.
Why? As the paper’s assistant managing editor, Dan Hirschhorn, told On the Media’s Sasha Pfeiffer in a September 24 podcast, “There are huge questions that remain unanswered regarding the extent to which partisan, political players may have a role in the process, so we’re not calling it an audit... ‘Audit’ is not an accurate word to describe what we know to be happening.”
Need more examples of how words might not accurately reflect what we know to be happening? On the Media’s Pfeiffer noted that when she was covering events at Guantanamo Bay, she stopped using the word “detainee” and used “prisoners” instead. “Enhanced interrogation?” She switched to “torture” because, as she said in the podcast, “You have to call it what it is.”
The fact is, when we accept words and descriptions without thinking about what those words are actually saying, we are tacitly accepting someone else’s narrative. When words are purposely used to try to hide reality, it’s up to us to change the narrative back to reality. “States rights?” It’s usually a shorthand for white supremacy. “Lost cause?” Shorthand for a rebellion to defend slavery. To sugar-coat it is to deny reality.
Journalists, unfortunately, are always looking for an easy catchphrase to use in their deadline writing. That’s why Hirschhorn says that now is the time to start educating everyone—not just voters, but also local and national journalists—that words matter, that it’s time to stop taking the easy way out.
“We told our readers for months before the November election that who’s in the lead and the vote margin would change as ballots were counted…that it’s not fraud, not any kind of vote-rigging. It will simply be the system working, albeit slowly.”
And that’s the way to report reality.
–Terry Maher, Managing Editor of the Voting Rights Gazette
(The entire On the Media podcast is at https://bit.ly/3A5eAeO.)