I was struck by the subtle power of language this morning while driving to work, which is distinguished from the not-so-subtle power of, say, a "STOP" sign.
That power is the currency and current of electronic journalists and sometimes I think it is ill-spent by those who do not realize the how powerful word choices are, or worse, those who do and manipulate it to their ends.
For example, though not the one that prompted this piece. If I billed a baseball players as failing to even get a hit a large majority of the time, you might assume he was headed for double A. But if I said he was batting .330 and you knew something about baseball, you would assume he probably won the batting title.
Same guy, same stats, different description. Half full or half empty.
The example I am actually pointing to is a radio commercial for a defense contractor who shall remain nameless. It talked of "employing assets" to "engage" and "eliminate" a "threat. All very clinical and smooth words. What it was talking about, of course, was soldiers attacking and destroying equipment and killing an enemy, with all the messiness that entails.
Same guys and gals, same mission, different description.
Of course, advertising is all about persuasion, which is why I am all for media education in schools. I believe that in a free market and society, the best way to tackle, say, the obesity problem, is threefold: More responsible self-regulation, more exercise, and teaching kids how smart adult marketers will try to get them to buy their products.
How we frame and characterize the same set of facts matters a great deal, as the above examples demonstrate, I hope. And perhaps even more than how they are being pitched SUPER SCREAMING ROBOSAURUSES or hot fudge sundae-flavored breakfast cereal, kids should be prepared to evaluate how their political attitudes are being shaped both by campaign ads and how the news is being reported.
Just an election-day thought.
By John Eggerton