WORD POLICE: Five words or phrases that any reporter should be punched in the mouth for saying

by Brendan Beery

Here are 5 words or phrases that signal laziness or nothing at all.

  1. Narrative

This is a lazy fallback when used by corporate-media talking heads. It absolves them, and those in the media loosely called “reporters” – from ever having to ascertain actual facts. Is allegation x true? It doesn’t matter – at least not if allegation x “reinforces the narrative that …”  cop

Is it true that Hillary Clinton received or sent emails that were marked classified (at the time she received or sent them) on a private server? It doesn’t matter, we are told, because regardless whether it’s true, it reinforces the narrative that Hillary Clinton is untrustworthy.

Were the 5 prisoners President Obama exchanged for Sergeant Bergdahl really the 5 most dangerous jihadists on the planet? Who cares? The exchange reinforces the narrative that Obama is weak and feckless.

  1. Meme

See narrative. Narrative and meme are essentially interchangeable, only memes aren’t reinforced; they’re fed.

I didn’t even know what meme meant a few years ago. After reading it 3 or 4 times, I finally looked it up. This word didn’t enter the lexicon until our national media collectively decided to drop even the pretense of journalism. Let’s just admit it: the facts can’t hold a stick to the story. So what gets reported? Whatever feeds the meme.

  1. Situation on the ground

It used to be that this term was only used by military or quasi-military personnel (like first responders), as in “boots on the ground.” But during the two Iraq wars, media types morphed from neutral spectators into cheerleading participants. Reporters were no longer assigned to cover zones; they were embedded with the troops.

As reporters and press commentators more and more fancied themselves part of the action (how fun!), this previously military jargon started creeping into reporting at every level. Even a local station covering the traveling carnival in town will say it’s got reporters covering “the situation on the ground.”

“We’re joined by Chuck Todd, who’s on the ground in …” “There are new developments on the ground in …” “It all depends how this situation unfolds on the ground.”

Note to media: if you’re not reporting from a seafaring vessel or an aircraft, you can trust us to assume that wherever you are reporting from, you are in some sense grounded.  So you can dispense with this meaningless drivel — it serves only to make you sound more vital than you are. From now on, you can just tell us what’s happening on the ground in Fallujah.

  1. At the end of the day

What happened to ultimately or eventually? When did every conceivable temporal unit – be it an hour, a week, a month, a year, a decade – become a day? How will the election of 2016 turn out? “At the end of the day, I think Hillary will win.” No, at the beginning of next November is when she will win.

One of my mentors, Professor Joseph Kimble, calls lead-in phrases like this “throat clearing.” Need a moment to collect your thoughts? You could subtly expectorate. Or you could say something senseless like “at the end of the day.”

  1. It is what it is*

This is quite possibly the laziest clause in our language. It means, I have no clue what else to say about whatever it is I’m discussing. It’s a linguistic white flag: this subject has conquered me; my brain is not equipped for this.

Given this meaning, it’s shocking how often prognosticators use this phrase. We are awash in baseless opinions from men and women who will flat-out announce their own hopelessness.

But whatever.  At the end of the day, it is what it is.

*Full disclosure: I once penned an article called It Is What It Is, but I used the clause to make a point, not to signal intellectual surrender.


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