How AP Style Leans Left

Journalism is supposed to be about free speech, but its management has sanitized the language.

By Rachel Alexander Published on February 17, 2017

July 10, 2017 UPDATE: Changes for 2017 in the AP Stylebook include newly accepted use of the word “they” to describe a single person who does not want to be identified as male or female. This has always been considered grammatically incorrect since “they” is a plural pronoun.

See the writer’s earlier story about the bias of The New York Times’ style manual.

A stylebook tells journalists practical things like what to capitalize and how to identify people. They need that, right? But it also tells journalists what words to use and what words not to use. They need that too, because some words are more neutral than others.

There’s where we find the problem with the AP Stylebook, from the Associated Press. It aims at neutrality but requires liberalism. It does this by censoring some words and phrases conservatives would prefer while requiring left-leaning replacements.

The Sanitized Words

People struggling to enter Europe is preferred over migrant or refugee.

Here’s a good example. Semi-automatic rifles that have additional add-on parts for greater shooting accuracy, are to be called assault weapons, despite the fact the term has referred to fully automatic weapons used by the military for years. The latter are now referred to as the confusingly similar assault rifles. Even more confusing, the phrase military style is recommended to describe assault weapons.

Finally, although AK-47s β€” which have been used recently in some fatal shootings β€” are generally no longer the fully automatic military weapons used by the Russians, the stylebook instructs them to be labeled AK-47 assault rifles.

Biased AP Words and Phrases

  • Anti-abortion, abortion rights, anti-abortion rights, pro-abortion rights, not pro-life or pro-choice
  • Militant, not Islamist or terrorist
  • Gunmen, lone wolves or attackers, not terrorists
  • Illegal immigration, not illegal immigrant, illegal, alien or undocumented
  • Cross-dresser, not transvestite
  • Transgender, not transsexual

The bias of most of these choices was addressed in the previous article about The New York Times.

Here’s another example where the bias isn’t so obvious. “To describe those who don’t accept climate science or dispute that the world is warming from man-made forces, use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science. Avoid use of skeptics or deniers.” The entry includes an extensive discussion with seemingly authoritative evidence for manmade global warming.

How is this biased? It keeps reporters from using the dismissive words skeptics and deniers. That’s good. But the words it tells them to use tell the reader that climate change theory is true, or at least “mainstream.”

Here are some others. (See the sidebar for more.)

“Do not refer to the child of unmarried parents as illegitimate,” the manual instructs. Instead, use “whose parents were not married.” The replacement is true, but in trying to be morally neutral it implies that the child whose parents were not married is no different from one whose parents were married.

In writing about homosexual people, writers should “avoid references to sexual preference or to a gay or alternative lifestyle.” Additionally, “Regardless of sexual orientation, husband for a man or wife for a woman is acceptable in all references to individuals in any legally recognized marriage.” As with the previous example, a moral judgment is being made in the attempt not to make one.

People struggling to enter Europe is preferred over migrant or refugee. It’s true that many struggle to enter Europe, but the most important thing about them is that they’re immigrants or refugees. The word amnesty contains no reference to illegal immigrants, it merely says, “See pardon, parole, probation.”

Even if the AP Stylebook is Changed, Journalists Won’t Follow it

There’s another big problem with the AP Stylebook as journalists. That’s the fact that journalists don’t always use it when it restrains their use of liberal-biased words.

For example, the stylebook says in regards to the phrase right wing, “Generally try to avoid in describing political leanings.” However, journalists ignore their own guide and use the phrase frequently. In contrast, they mostly avoid using the equivalent left wing.

AP also discourages use of the phrase ultra-rightist, defined as “an individual who subscribes to rigid interpretations of a conservative doctrine or to forms of fascism that stress authoritarian, often militaristic, views.” The problem is that journalists routinely use both this term and right wing to describe regular American conservatives.

Journalists also ignore the stylebook’s instructions on using the word controversial. “An overused word,” the stylebook states. “Most issues that are described as controversial are obviously so, and the word is not necessary.” Yet it is still frequently used to describe conservatives and their issues.

Perhaps most disturbing, many news publications edit articles contributed by conservatives to conform to AP Style, changing words like pro-life to anti-abortion.



Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC

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