Friday, April 5, 2013

Next Up for AP Stylebook Change: "Right-Wing Extremist"?

    The Associated Press's announcement that its famed stylebook would no longer include "illegal immigrant" created quite a stir.  The news organization's Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll gave some of the reasoning behind the change:
Also, we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example. 
And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again. 
We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance. 
So we have.

    Carroll went on to acknowledge that the change will likely spur talk of other changes that might be warranted:
I suspect now we will hear from some language lovers who will find other labels in the AP Stylebook. We welcome that engagement.

    Out of curiosity, I conducted a search of the AP's website for the term "right-wing extremist." The Google search returned 33 results with a total of 67 when duplicates were included.  On the other hand, a similar search for "left-wing extremist" returned precisely zero results.  Searches for the terms "right-wing" and "left-wing" returned 11,100 and 10,100 results respectively, so the difference lies not in the existence of the wings, but rather the purported extremism on the right.

    Since the AP encouraged engagement on the issue, I emailed the following question along with the search results: "If there is no such thing as a 'left-wing extremist' (or at least they do nothing newsworthy,) doesn’t that call into question the value of the label 'right-wing extremist'?" As of this writing, I have not received a response.  I'll post an update if/when I hear anything.  Until then, all you right-wing extremists are just going to have to be patient.  Try to stay out of the news.

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