The conservative movement has been notoriously effective at co-opting language for its own benefit, either by turning the meaning of commonly used words upside down or by injecting new words and phrases into the national dialogue. The use of some loaded language in a recent New York Times article by Pam Belluck on Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick’s new stem cell proposal demonstrates just how well these tactics have worked:
These states are all seeking ways to get around the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research, which were imposed because President Bush objects to the necessity of destroying human embryos in order to create the stem cells.
Massachusetts in 2005 enacted a law authorizing embryonic stem cell research but did not authorize any financial incentives. Mitt Romney, who was then governor, was opposed to creating new stem cells because of the destruction of embryos involved.
Describing embryonic stem cell research as “destroying embryos” is far from objective, and such a description–especially in two consecutive paragraphs–should be much more at home in a piece of Republican Party propaganda. Instead, the author could write that “President Bush objects to the necessity of what he calls the destruction of human embryos” or that “President Bush objects to the use of human embryos.” Calling the deriving of a stem cell line from a frozen embryo destined to remain frozen for an eternity “destruction” is not meaningful and lets one side of the debate unfairly control its tone.
This isn’t the first time I’ve commented on poor media coverage of the stem cell debate, and instances of this sort of misleading language abound. I’m not saying that any of these reporters are doing this intentionally, but whether or not they are cognizant of this fact, they are making themselves pawns of the conservative movement. Scientists and media watchdogs should not give the press a free pass on this sort of unimpressive and counterproductive journalism, especially as the future of H.R. 3/S. 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, still hangs in the balance.