Death tax vs. estate tax -- preferred term: Estate tax. Republicans call the taxes assessed on an estate valued at a million dollars or more a "death tax," while Democrats generally call it an "estate tax." "Death tax" -- used by conservative outlets like Fox -- sounds appropriately ominous. But most outlets like CNN and the Washington Post insist on the more benign and less unobjectionable term "estate tax."
Preferences vs. affirmative action -- preferred term: Affirmative action. In Colin Powell's autobiography, "My American Journey," he made a distinction between affirmative action or outreach and preferences: "If (affirmative action) leads to preferential treatment or helps those who no longer need help, I am opposed. I benefited from equal opportunity and affirmative action in the Army, but I was not shown preference." A policy that lowers standards to achieve "racial inclusion," however well-intended, remains preferences.
Big oil; big tobacco vs. big Hollywood; big trial lawyers; big teacher's union -- preferred term: Big oil; big tobacco. During the 2002 election cycle, "big oil" contributed over $13 million to political parties with 21 percent going to Democrats. And, in the same time period, "big tobacco" contributed over $5 million to political parties, with 19 percent going to Democrats. But for the 2002 election year, the entertainment industry so far rings in with $24 million to political parties, 81 percent going to Democrats. The Association of Trial Lawyers of America in the 2000 cycle gave $3.5 million to political parties, with 90 percent for Democrats. The American Federation of Teachers gave over $3 million in 2000, with 99 percent going to Democrats. Why don't we give groups heavily contributing to Democrats the label "big"?
Me decade of the '80s vs. Me decade of the '90s -- preferred term: 1980s "me" decade. Although many call the '80s "the decade of greed," the '90s saw an even higher stock market, with more mergers and acquisitions occurring, and saw, by some measures, a widening gap between the rich and the poor.
Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) vs. Star Wars -- preferred term: Star Wars. Ronald Reagan hated the way his critics and many in the mainstream press quickly dubbed his missile defense shield program "Star Wars." Fanciful, pie-in-the-sky, reckless. Yet this trivializing label stuck, causing many to dismiss Reagan's vision as unattainable.
Fetus vs. unborn -- preferred term: Fetus. "Pro-choicers," comprising most of the mainstream media, prefer the less personal term "fetus." "Pro-lifers" prefer the term "unborn," conveying their belief that life -- with full rights -- begins at conception. In using the term "fetus," the mainstream media chooses sides. The Los Angeles Times, years ago, admitted the mainstream media's pro-choice bias. "Editors," said the Los Angeles Times, "say 'fetus' is medically correct, value-free and non-emotional. A 'fetus' does not become a 'baby' until it's born."
Terrorist vs. militant -- preferred term: Militant. Reuters news service says, "We all know that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter . . ." Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole, in a story on the siege of the Church of the Nativity, even called the terrorists "movement members"!
Homicide bomber vs. suicide bomber -- preferred term: Suicide bomber. President Bush and some conservative news outlets now use the more victim-sensitive term "homicide bomber." But most mainstream outlets still use "suicide bomber." Neither term precisely fits, but "suicide bomber" implies a sort of noble desperation on the part of the Palestinians. Never mind that Palestinian schools teach virulent anti-Semitism while using maps without Israel, and they also call the Holocaust a hoax.
Gun control lobbyist vs. gun control advocate -- preferred term: Gun control advocate. Thus, some in the media brand NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as a "lobbyist." Sarah Brady, formerly head of Handgun Control, Inc., on the other hand, enjoys the title "advocate." Get it? "Advocate Brady" wears the white hat, while "lobbyist" Wayne LaPierre plays the role of Simon Legree.
Illegal alien/immigrant vs. undocumented worker -- preferred term: Immigrant. Three to five million people unlawfully reside in America. Newspapers often refer to them as immigrants, even though many admit they intend to live in the United States only temporarily. Webster's Dictionary defines "immigrate" as: "to come into a new country, region, or environment, esp. in order to settle there." Does this not fit the definition of, say, Mexican illegals who frequently go back and forth between two countries?
Conservative politician vs. liberal politician -- preferred term: Conservative. When do you describe a politician as "conservative" and when do you describe a politician as "liberal"? The Media Research Center studied evening news broadcasts from Jan. 1, 1997 through Dec. 31, 2001. The term "conservative" buried "liberal" by a landslide: "On ABC, conservatives received 79 percent of these labels; on NBC, 80 percent. On the 'CBS Evening News with Dan Rather,' 82 percent of the 353 ideological labels assigned by CBS's reporters were given to conservatives, in contrast to a mere 18 percent for liberals."
Moral to the story: Words matter.