Hold the Adjectives, Please

If you haven’t read Monica Guzman’s book, I Never Thought of It That Way: How To Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times, I do recommend it. Monica, a left-leaning reporter in Seattle, was disturbed at the lack of respect and conversation between people who held different political views. As a daughter of Trump-supporting, Hispanic immigrant parents whom she admired and loved, she knew that the way they were viewed by her newspaper peers as white-supremacist, racist, bigoted, and evil (or stupid) was way off. She felt that the assumptions made about her as a liberal Democrat were off-base as well. These thoughts led her to help found Braver Angels, an organization devoted to lowering the political temperature and getting people to talk to rather than at each other.

After reading her book, I wrote Monica, expressing my dissatisfaction with the news. I shared my concern that I didn’t know where to get objective facts on news events or political personalities. Both sides of the political spectrum, it seemed to me, cherry-picked their stories and then issued slanted reporting on the ones they chose to cover.

To my delight, Monica wrote back to me a few months later, sharing my dismay and recommending allsides.com as a resource. While it doesn’t report on the news itself, it provides links to an article from the right, left, and center on various topics. A reader who has the time to delve into all the articles can begin to piece together the facts.

Recently, in its blog, the site posted an article that intrigued me, Why It’s Important to Notice When Journalists Use Adjectives. As a (retired) homeschooling mom, I appreciate adjectives. My children had many assignments along the following line.

1) Begin with this sentence: Catherine gave a present to Julie.
2) Add an adjective, adverb, and prepositional phrase.
(For those of you having trouble at this point, an example might be, “At the party, Catherine shamefacedly gave a re-gifted present to Julie.”)

Replacing the adjective ‘re-gifted’ with enormous, heartwarming, or inappropriate, leads to an entirely different meaning, necessitating changing the adverb (shamefacedly) as well. Whatever your choice of words, the sentence will be more informative and hopefully more interesting than your starting one.

Nonetheless, there is a time and place for everything. The blog pointed out that news stories are not the place for subjective qualifying adjectives. It gave the following example of biased and manipulative reporting from an AP article.

As you can see, there is more to see than just adjectives, but I was intrigued and began perusing news stories more carefully. Almost immediately, I noticed this opening to a NY Times article:

“Mr. Biden spoke a day after the White House acknowledged that his lawyers had discovered a small cache of classified documents as they packed up his former office.”

While not as blatantly prejudicial as the AP article, my eyes paused on the adjective “small.” How many pages rate as small? Three, thirty, three hundred? More? Inserting that word rather than either excluding it or printing an exact figure is a case of leading the witness – or reader. My guess is that the same adjective was not used when documents were discovered at Mar-a-Lago.

I’m inviting you to join my new ‘search for the adjectives’ game. This could be fun.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Susan’s Musings post.
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