The foremost criticism of modern media has been bias. Whether we like it or not, language has power. One word can change the meaning of a sentence completely and, more often than not, readers are not always aware of any hidden agendas.
CNN senior congressional producer Deirdre Walsh said the following in an article concerning the increasingly tense debate between House Democrats and Republicans over whether or not to fund Obamacare:
“House Speaker John Boehner and other top leaders outlined a lengthy GOP wish list of items they plan to attach to legislation raising the nation’s debt limit, including a delay of Obamacare.”
Children write wish lists. Political parties do not.
Walsh, consciously or unconsciously, has delegitimized the GOP. Attaching the phrase “wish list” places the GOP in a perceived position of less power than the other groups involved. It diminishes their perspective — hardly the people you’d want making decisions regarding your health, money, or government.
Personal opinion has no place in reporting. That’s why editorial columns — like this one — exist.
Our age is one of information overload. We have access to detailed accounts of even fringe news from at least five different perspectives. Popular blogs, newspapers, talk shows, celebrity Twitter feeds, and radio broadcasts all contribute to our daily cacophony.
If, as citizens, we take our share of the American democratic republic seriously, then it is our responsibility to be aware of hidden agendas in the language used by our informers. Not in order to reject these agendas, but simply to remain informed.
We cannot blankly accept what we’re told without questioning its legitimacy, just as we cannot reject a perspective because it is foreign to us. The death of free thought is apathetic adoption of the ideologies professed by the majority, merely for the sake of being too comfortable to go out of our way to understand what it is they’re really saying.
If the media is a watchdog for the government, then the reader must be a watchdog for the media.
Being conscious of the broader implications of seemingly innocent words is a large part of making educated decisions. From its founding, America was never intended to be solely in custody of its elected officials, but of its people. An uninformed public — a manipulated public — is not a public capable of holding the government accountable.
Command your language, or it will command you.