The Language We Use

This morning on “Fox and Friends” Steve Doucy, the loveable morning host, spoke of supporters of Arizona immigration law 1070 as “anti-immigration protestors”.  This is a perfect example of how imperfect language allows for the distortion (intentional or not) of the substance of key issues such as illegal immigration.

While a very small percentage of people who support Arizona’s law are against “immigration” altogether, 99% of them are “for” legal immigration, and “against” illegal immigration.  To call supporters of the law “anti-immigration” is imprecise and inflammatory.

We see this further manifested in protests on both sides, with hispanics (legal or not) believe that the law is against immigration, that the Republicans are against immigration, and that the law is anti-hispanic.  Agree or don’t agree with the law, it is focused on illegal immigration.  It causes one to ask when they see the protests opposing the law:  “Do you mean to say you agree with illegal immigration?  Should we just open the border then?”  The imprecise language leads us to strange and inaccurate conclusions.

But this isn’t the only case in which we make such mistakes.  Consider the controversy of, generically speaking, stem cell research.  The Bush administration took a very precise stand on this issue, one which most of us have very limited understanding of as a result of the imprecise (mostly intentional in my opinion) language being used.  His position was this:  Stem cell research is good and should be Federally funded, and “embryonic” stem cell research should be funded only for existing genetic lines, and should not fund the creation of new genetic lines.

Democrats and many biased media outlets turned this specific language into “Bush administration against stem cell research”.  Think about how different such a statement is from the actual administration’s position!  It makes equivalent the scraping of skin from my hand to experiment with the resulting stem cells with that of creating a new line of stem cells from an embryo!  I’m not writing this article to take a position one way or the other on the Bush policy, but simply to point out how oversimplification and manipulation can lead to a total distortion of the facts.

If the Bush administration was against all stem cell research it would be a ridiculous position.  If the Bush administration was against continuing research on existing lines of stem cells that would be a somewhat debate-able position but likely also unreasonable.  But the Bush administration was against “new lines”.  This for sure is a debate-able position;  No matter which side of the argument you fall on, you could not say that the other side was being wildly irrational.

We witness these language games all the time, and both sides of the political spectrum play them.  We should call them out when they do and demand more honesty and integrity from our politicians.  But we should especially demand this integrity from members of the media who have an obligation to be unbiased and to present us the facts using the proper descriptive language of the key issues of the day.

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