Euphemisms and cliches. They’re strangling journalism, you know. Clogging up the sink like tea leaves is how I believe George Orwell put it in his essay “Politics and the English Language.” I choked on more than a few this morning while listening to this Associated Press story about U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on NPR.
Go ahead and read the AP story. It’s not long, but when I went through it I found 38 instances where Gates or the reporter was dangerously ambiguous. Words like “relations”, “concerns” and “reassure” kept popping up–words that are deliberately unspecific and open to interpretation. It wasn’t until I was 12 paragraphs in that I found actual specific actions that might occur.
This isn’t journalism: it’s just repeating the gibberish of a public official desperately worried that people might accidentally understand his actions and motives. As a result, even after reading the story I really have no idea what Gates is actually doing (or planning to do) and I’m pretty sure the reporter doesn’t know either. I can guess what Gates means by his oblique references to “closed fists” and such, but journalism should shoot a bit higher than giving a wink and nod and letting the reader try to find her way on her own.