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July 19, 2007
The Times' Orwellian Dance With Language
This piece in the New York Sun by John Leo informs us of some strange and wonderful doublespeak about "civil disturbances" that crop up occasionally in the New York Times. The Times prides itself as being the paper of record; yet, willingly distorts history and the meaning of words to paint a false view of history.
Case in point: the 40th anniversary of the Newark riots. Not quite the textbook definition of doublespeak but certainly a tinge of 1984 regarding the rewriting of history.
In 1967, Newark erupted in gunfire, looting, and arson, killing 23 people and injuring 700. But 40 years later, the New York Times still is not certain that this event should properly be called a "riot." In a news article marking the anniversary, the Times reminds us that "frightened white residents" of the 1960s opted for the word "riot," while "black activists" of the period called it a "rebellion." Leo details other "riot-like" events variously described by the Times as "sporadic protests and vandalism" (Cincinnati riots in 1991) or even more shockingly a "prayer for self-preservation" to describe the incident in 1990 when AIDS activists ran through St. Patrick's Cathedral, screaming in order to disrupt mass and stomping on the Eucharist in an act of nauseating desecration for Catholics.
In a bracing slap at readers who unthinkingly might refer to several days of riotous behavior as a "riot," the Times quotes the president of the New Jersey Historical Society, Linda Epps, who says: "there is not one truth, and your view depends on your race, your age and where you lived." So what would fair-minded neutral people call it today? No need to wonder. The Times tells us: "Those seeking neutrality have come to embrace the word ‘disturbance.'" I can sympathize. Unaware that they may be giving offense, many Americans and Europeans still blithely talk about "World War II," with its aggressive and wounding reference to armed conflict. On the other hand, many German activists of the period preferred the term "unjustified trampling of the Third Reich's perfectly legitimate lebensraum and population control policies." Surely it is time for a non-provocative name for this troublesome six-year disturbance. How about "the multiple disagreements and tragic misunderstandings of 1939-1945?" Or perhaps "World Woe II," so we can retain the established initials.
It appears that the Times doesn't needs any lessons in Orwellian doublespeak.