A journalism stylebook is supposed to provide universal guidelines for writers when it comes to stylistic things like punctuation, capitalization and so on. This includes choosing certain words over others.
The original intent of word preference was to use words that are more neutral than others. But in recent years, that concept has changed.
More often than not, style writers have been more interested in censoring conservative words while promoting language that liberals tend to favor. That’s been especially true of the AP Stylebook published by The Associated Press. It’s unfortunate, because that’s the guide most journalists rely upon.
Even when individual authors do not adhere to the bias of AP Style, it often doesn’t matter. If they submit an article to a mainstream media outlet, they will likely see their words edited to conform. A pro-life author who submits a piece taking a position against abortion will see the words “pro-life” changed to “anti-abortion,” because the AP Stylebook instructs, “Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and pro-abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice.” It goes on, “Avoid abortionist,” saying the term “connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions.”
Words related to terrorism are sanitized in the AP Stylebook. Militant, lone wolves or attackers are to be used instead of terrorist or Islamist. “People struggling to enter Europe” is favored over “migrant” or “refugee.” While it’s true that many struggle to enter Europe, it is accurate to point out that they are, in fact, immigrants or refugees.
“Illegal immigrant” and “undocumented” aren’t acceptable anymore either. “Illegals” and “alien” were already forbidden a few years ago. Although “illegal immigration” is still acceptable, it’s not clear what words are supposed to replace the forbidden words. The word “amnesty” contains no reference to illegal immigrants, instead instructing, “See pardon, parole, probation.”
The stylebook also instructs writers to use confusing language about guns in order to create a negative impression about them. Semi-automatic rifles that have add-on parts intended to increase shooting accuracy are to be called “assault weapons,” despite the fact the term has referred to fully automatic weapons used by the military for years. The latter are now referred to as “assault rifles,” and the two are often conflated. Adding even more to the confusion, the phrase “military style” is recommended to describe assault weapons.
Although AK-47s — which have been used in some fatal shootings — used to be fully automatic military weapons used by the Russians, that’s no longer the case — but the stylebook still instructs that they be labeled “AK-47 assault rifles.”
Separately, the phrase “climate change deniers” is everywhere today in news articles. This is because the stylebook instructs, “To describe those who don’t accept climate science or dispute that the world is warming from man-made forces, use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science. Avoid use of skeptics or deniers.” The entry includes an extensive discussion with seemingly authoritative evidence of manmade global warming. These words tell the reader that climate change theory is true, or at least “mainstream.”
And there’s one more problem. Journalists don’t always use the AP Stylebook when it would “water down” words that favor liberals. For example, the guide instructs journalists to “try to avoid describing political leanings.” However, journalists usually ignore the guide in referring to Republicans as “right wing.” At the same time, they almost never describe Democrats as “left-wing.”
AP also discourages use of the phrase “ultra-rightist,” defined as “an individual who subscribes to rigid interpretations of a conservative doctrine or to forms of fascism that stress authoritarian, often militaristic, views.” The problem is that journalists routinely use this term, as well as “right wing” or even “alt-right” to describe regular American conservatives interchangeably along with radical, violent extremists. This lumps them all in together as if there’s little difference.
Journalists also ignore the stylebook’s instruction on using the word “controversial” in order to fit their own political leanings.
“An overused word,” the stylebook states. “Most issues that are described as controversial are obviously so, and the word is not necessary.” Yet it is still everywhere in news articles and titles, frequently used to describe conservatives and their issues.
Some news publications have their own stylebooks, such as the The New York Times. They’re not much different than the AP Stylebook. After the presidential election last year, management at the Times vowed to eliminate the bias. But how can the mainstream media correct their bias, when the bias is already built into their stylebooks?