Sunday, August 26, 2007

More Wordfuzz - What??

Recently one of my favorite Bloggers characterized a journalist as "ardently left-wing". Since being "left-wing" or "right-wing" usually refers to a person’s political position relative to some large group it probably refers to some assumption about the reporter’s politics. Its use as a descriptor of a journalist is puzzling. This article is a reflection the usefulness of the terms "left", "left-wing", "right" or "right-wing" in political conversation or discussion.

The terms "left" and "right" in common usage refer to position or movement as in:
"The person to George’s right is his mechanic."
"Norma, please take two steps to your left."
"At the light turn right and go two blocks."
"The left wing of the Viking line collapsed."
Notice that the position or movement is always in relative to a reference point.

Another characteristic of these terms is that they are inherently unreliable because their correctness or usefulness depends upon a factor not obvious from the written or uttered sentence. If the observer(s) of the line of people containing George were to move to the other side of the line or George were to turn around the statement would no longer be true.

Thus in common usage left and right are relative to a reference point and to the perspective of the speaker or writer. Can these everyday dynamics of these words be applied to their use in political discourse? A brief internet search reveals that indeed they do apply to political usage.

In my opening paragraph I used the first of these when I said "..."left-wing" or "right-wing" usually refer to a person’s political position relative to some large group." Unfortunately the "large group" part of this is usually not identified and one can only assume or intuit what large group is being referenced. The second attribute may be useful in decoding what is meant if one knows or can determine the perspective of the speaker or writer.

In the case of a journalist the application of a political adjective is puzzling for the above reasons (left in what large group? What is writer’s political perspective?) but also seems to be out of place given our ideals or at least expectations of journalists. We expect journalists to be objective, fair, seeking out and listen to all sides of a story and clearly identifying their own opinions as editorial offerings not facts. We judge a journalist based on how well he or she meets these expectations.

While a journalist might be a man, a Frenchman, a Christian or a vegetarian we still evaluate his or her work in light of these ideals. A reporter’s relative political position should not change our expectations. It would be unrealistic to believe we could find persons who have no gender, no nationality, no religion, no diet preference and who do not vote to be our journalists.

In the case of the review that triggered my musing on this topic I wonder if I can now decode "ardently left-wing"?

Left-wing in what large group? US citizens?
(The journalist in question is not an American.)
Perspective of the writer? Implication is that the writer is politically "right" of the journalist. Since neither the political position of the reviewer or the journalist is obvious to me I am left puzzled.

I guess I should have considered "ardent".
Ardent = characterized by warmth of feeling typically expressed in eager
zealous support or activity (Merriam-Webster).

I was able to view most of the TV special reviewed and the journalist clearly did not express any support much less eager or zealous support for (or opposition to) the political positions of those interviewed or quoted. A clearly identified editorial comment was offered at the end but I could not classify it as either right-wing or left-wing.

I haven’t broached the additional problem of how one determines which way is left and which way is right in politics. That will have to be for another day.

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