Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Language at the New York Times

The editors of the New York Times need to go back and read some Orwell. A few years ago I heard Paul Krugman tell Terri Gross that during the 2000 campaign, his editor wouldn't let him use the word "lie" to describe statements made by then-Governor Bush. Early this year a Times reporter told me that he was not allowed to mention Vietnam in articles about Iraq. And a couple of weeks ago, when old friends of Senator George Allen recalled his use of the word "nigger," the Times news stories danced around it. I was delighted that their columnist Bob Herbert seems still to believe, as I do, that we proved in the 1960s that words do not kill, and got away with breaking the taboo.

Today the Times introduces a new phrase into the language, apparently to avoid seeming to offend the Administration once again. I quote from a story on Iraq:

"Meanwhile, the Shiites, or at least the leaders of the religious parties that control the government, have become increasingly strident in insisting that after generations of Sunni domination, it is now their turn to rule. While a process of ethnic and religious separation is already under way in cities including Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk — with tens of thousands of people from the three principal communities fleeing to safer havens in those parts of the country where they are in the majority — any policy that explicitly espoused this kind of separation would be likely to ignite an even fiercer struggle."

When this happened fifteen years ago in Yugoslavia we called it "ethnic cleansing." Now that a similar process has been unleashed by one of the most disastrous decisions in the history of American foreign policy, some one has evidently decided that a more neutral word is more appropriate. On the eve of an election, it wouldn't do to call the effects of American policy by their right names.

It was last February that I compared the infiltration of the Iraqi police by militias to the way that Hitler managed to integrate the SA and SS into the German police in 1933. Today's Washington Post includes a story on exactly how bad the situation in the Baghdad police is. Not only are they carrying out ethnic cleansing, they are also a danger to the lives of American soliders. See it at


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tellingly, the U.S. military's Power Point chart "Iraq: I&W of Civil Conflict" obtained by the Times and published Nov. 1 does use the term "ethnic cleansing," if in quotes. Perhaps the Times could refer to "so-called ethnic cleansing."