Consider, too, timeworn expressions still in use that confuse important issues – land of opportunity, for instance, a phrase still invoked to describe a country where at this writing the gap between the 1 percent who hold about one-third of our total wealth and the bottom 50 percent who hold about 2 percent of it is greater than in any other developed country. Or developed, for that matter – a term that generally begs the question of how much is destroyed in the processes of “developing” industrial and technological infrastructures. Or the description of war as a “job” “we” have to finish, terms that mask the horrors and costs of war and the degree to which the wars waged under our flag put us in more rather than less danger and serve private rather than public interests.
Public rhetoric is full of dubious but consequential metaphors and underexamined, anesthetizing phrases that postpone urgent scrutiny of policies and public issues: defending our freedom, fake news, free market. The more candid among those who work for network news media will acknowledge that they are addressing an audience conditioned to a shrinking attention span, partly due to rapid-fire messages on Instagram, Twitter, and other social media. Though thoughtful content can be accessed, the temptation to be satisfied by quick synopses and move on is strong, resulting in radical abbreviation of what needs careful qualification. Movements and policies and points of view that deserve explanation are too often summarily accepted or dismissed by a kind of automatic sort-and-sift response to labels (liberal, pro-choice, millennials) and words that end with an “ism” (feminism, socialism, capitalism). Many of us grab our news and cues from headlines. It’s worth remembering that nineteenth-century newspapers didn’t have headlines – only columns of print that left the reader to sort out what was important in the course of reading.
From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre