Mar 10 2005

Times Responds on Social Security Semantics

On January 27, FAIR issued an action alert on the New York Times‘ and AP‘s use of the White House-friendly phrase “personal accounts” to describe Bush’s privatization plan. On March 6, Times public editor Daniel Okrent devoted part of his column to responding to FAIR activists and others on this issue. FAIR replied in its online Media Views feature, a daily compendium of media criticism and analysis.

Okrent’s comment was:

“Now a rugby scrum has gathered around the Bush Social Security plan. Republicans tout ‘personal accounts’; Democrats trash ‘private accounts.’ In this atmosphere, I don’t think reporters have much choice other than to use ‘private’ and ‘personal’ interchangeably, and to interchange them often. Once one side of an ideological conflict has seized control of a word, it no longer has a meaning of its own; opting for one or the other would be a declaration that doesn’t belong in the news reports.”

And FAIR responded:

“Private accounts” was the accurate term used by both sides of the debate until Republicans realized it wasn’t polling well; they then started calling them “personal accounts,” a deceptive term because citizens already have personal Social Security accounts that keep track of their individual contributions.

According to Okrent, the media should use this inaccurate PR term interchangeably with the old terminology because words have no meanings other than those given to them by political partisans–an odd stance for the Times‘ public editor to take.

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