Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I Am Calling Bullshit on The Washington Post

My local paper stays in business in part by importing its national and international news from sources like The Washington Post. The latter's coverage of the recent French elections leaves a lot to be desired. Here are two examples.

On the editorial page, we find Anne Applebaum writing as follows:

Le Pen, best described as a national socialist, would like to take France out of international institutions, including both the European Union and NATO; block borders; curtail trade; and impose quasi-Marxist state-dominated economics.

I wonder if Ms. Applebaum realizes that national socialist means Nazi. Just Google the term and look at the first few entries. Now re-read the sentence without the offending phrase, "best described as a national socialist," and ask yourself whether any of the substance is lost. None, as far as I can tell, except the name calling.

On the news page, we find Michael Birnbaum and James McAuley writing under a headline, "French voters face choice between hope and fear in runoff for presidency." Since the word "hope" has exclusively positive connotations and the word "fear" has exclusively negative connotations, this is a bias that doesn't belong in a news story. The names of the candidates, Macron and Le Pen, would have served just fine. We get more of this in the second paragraph:

In a flat-out rejection of the center-left and center-right parties that have run the country for decades, voters opted for Emmanuel Macron, 39, a fresh-faced independent who argues for France’s place in Europe and a globalized economy, and Marine Le Pen, 48, an ardent right-winger who wants to return to a nation-state model, leave the European Union and curb immigration.

Why does Mr. Macron get to be referred to as a "fresh-faced independent," while Ms. Le Pen gets to be referred to as an "ardent right-winger?" Would anyone read this and think that "fresh-faced" is less appealing than "ardent" or that "independent" is less appealing than "right-winger?" As in the first example, read the sentence again without these characterizations and ask if any of the substance is lost. Again, none.

In the Age of Trump, which is not an age I voted for or one that I celebrate, we all have to be much better at our jobs. For a newspaper, particularly one like The Post that aspires to be a paper of record, that means choosing words carefully so that news is reported accurately and without embellishment. (For an academic economist, it means appealing to the authority of my credentials and positions only when writing in my areas of expertise for which those credentials and positions were earned.) To do otherwise, as in these examples, is to invite readers to ignore and discount what is written.

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