Monday, March 31, 2008

Tales of the AP stylebook 

St. Cloud Times managing editor John Bodette defends his paper's use of the term "anti-abortion" in its coverage of a local appearance by Alan Keyes:

The Times follows The Associated Press Stylebook in matter of style and usage.

The entry in the AP stylebook on "abortion" reads: "Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice. Avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions."

So, when writing our news stories we use the terms anti-abortion instead of pro-life unless it appears in a quote or the title of a group or organization.

...The reason the AP Stylebook makes its decision probably involves clarity of terms.

Here is a key quote from the foreword to the 2006 edition of the AP Stylebook: "But just as the AP remains dedicated to its fundamental journalistic principles, the AP Stylebook remains committed to its original concept: to provide a uniform presentation of the printed word, to make a story written anywhere understandable everywhere."

The original article is not online that I can find (the Times still uses a one-week pay wall for its free archives), so I cannot give you the context, but I think that pretty well says it. I'm not arguing with the AP stylebook's representation of abortion positions, but interested that Bodette would consider anti-abortion part of its "clarity of terms".

This morning the Times runs on page 1 an unsigned AP article that contains the same paragraph as this one signed by Tom Raum of the AP in the Washington Post:
The two Democrats are calling for a more activist role for the U.S. government to protect individuals. McCain is echoing standard GOP dogma of protecting markets and opposing bailouts.
What "clarity of terms" is incorporated in the use of the word "dogma"? Is Mr. Raum engaged in making "a story written anywhere understandable everywhere," or is he making a political point that makes the free market position somehow less considered, a knee-jerk reaction rather than something thought out as being better for individuals. "Activist" is a word that has connotations for economists different than for the public -- to the latter, it's meant to say Democrats want to do something, while the Republicans want to do nothing, and want to do nothing because they aren't thinking, they're just acting on an -ism.

That's clear enough to me ... clearly, the AP is impugning McCain's policies. Is "impugn" in the AP Stylebook?

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