Friday, January 05, 2007

Stop escalating the language -- and troop levels

I published this first on OpEd


They don't like me much at Starbucks. And I can't blame them.

Those oh-so-nice, skinny, smiling, make-my-day servers are well-versed in the language of "venti, non-fat lattes." (Hold the coffee, cream and sugar, thank you.) But the word "small," uttered in Starbucks' otherwise warm and embracing confines, is enough to put a chill in the caffeinated air.

No matter. I rather enjoy my exchanges with whoever is behind the counter.

"Hi. I'd like a small coffee, please."

"Excuse me."

"A small coffee, please."

"One TALL coffee, coming up."

I mean no one comes out and says, "Hey Buster, can't you read the sign? We don't sell SMALL coffee here. We sell big, bigger and biggest."

That would be rude. But the message is clear: "Get with our program, guy."

Perhaps it's my training as a journalist that won't allow me to do this. I was schooled to say someone died, not that they passed away. That fires kill people, not that they "claim" lives. That wars do, too.

I'm curious, however, whether today's journalists are getting the same lectures about excising euphemism from their lives – and copy. Judging from the news I read, I'd guess a fair number of them order a tall -- and not a small -- when they go to Starbucks.

I base this hunch on how regularly and eagerly some journalists adopt the language so carefully gift-wrapped by the White House. Examples abound, but today I'll stick with the latest, The Surge.

If you've been anywhere near any news media for the last three weeks you'll have heard all about The Surge. It's not a tsunami, not even a powerful wave machine. It refers, of course, to all those troops we're going to add to American forces in Baghdad to finally bring peace, stability and justice to Iraq.

The Surge:It sounds strong and just and American.

In truth, it is ludicrous and destructive and ultimately cynical, a plan to send another 20,000 or so U.S. troops to a country where roughly 135,000 American military personnel already are hunkered down in their Humvees, trying to stay alive while Iraqis slaughter each other and everyone else in a lawless Lord of the Flies society we helped create.

But the Bush Administration's new language, effortlessly picked up by many in the news media, makes this new "strategy" (another misnomer) seem manly and cool. It sounds sort of like a new season of that vintage TV show, Hawaii Five-0. (Get out your surf boards and get ready for the Big Wave.)

It's not. And it's way past time for reporters to stop peddling the war in language specially crafted for them by Karl Rove and company.

Perhaps a trial run at Starbucks can help them out of this wilderness of spin. And so, my fellow journalists, let me make a modest New Year's proposal. Be bold. Take the heat. Order a small at Starbucks. You'll feel better for trying. And, with practice, perhaps you'll stop writing The Surge as a euphemism for putting a bunch more soldiers in harm's way for no good reason.


Blogger Michael Bonanno said...

Jerry, you’re so spot on with what you write here. The Regime has probably used more misguided euphemisms than all of the legitimate executive administrations who sat at the head of the US government before it. “Clear Skies Initiative” and “No Child Left Behind” are merely two more of the biggies.

People have referred to two particular phenomena more than any others since The Regime’s selection.

The first are the many references made to Hitler (Fascism/Nazism).

If you remember, when MoveOn first tried to go public with a campaign ad that implied The Regime was much like that of Adolf Hitler, the right wing congress and their right wing followers acted as if, well, as if MoveOn had hired a bunch of Swift Boat veterans to lie about Bush. They were appalled and MoveOn never used the ad.

Those references are becoming more and more frequent and there is much less resistance to them lately. I guess, to paraphrase Forest Forest Gump, “Fascists are as fascists do.”

The other reference frequently used is to Orwell’s Newspeak. It’s not surprising considering all of the corporate feed stock that went into producing The Regime’s make-up.

I worked for a global Fortune 500 corporation for 25 years. I was a dependable and well respected middle manager. In fact, I was the recipient of many kudos during those 25 years. Many of the kudos were sizeable bonuses.

However, there came a glorious time within that particular corporation. It was time for those who reported to me to become “empowered”. In order to do that, I and all of the people, globally, who held the same position as I held had to be “delayered”.

I’m going to plug a book, not one that I wrote. The book is called, coincidentally enough, “AMERICAN NEWSPEAK” and it’s written by Wayne Grytting. Grytting not only reveals a boat load of corporate euphemisms or Newspeak, but he quotes corporate CEOs and top executives in their defense of the Newspeak, the action for which it stands or both. Read this book and you’ll understand where The Regime is coming from when it lies by Newspeak and when people like Gonzales and Rice try to defend the lies.

“I think that I don’t see it, and the president doesn’t see it, as an escalation… I would call it, senator, an augmentation”

Such is the Newspeak Rice used in explaining the “surge” to Senator Chuck Hagel on January 10.

To friendship,

7:45 PM  
Blogger Jerry Lanson said...

Thanks for the interesting comment Michael.

5:25 AM  
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