Left-leaning, right-leaning.

A rule of journalese is for a reporter or editor to never label an organization, researcher or think tank that he or she admires. Thus, Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International or the ACLU are never identified as “far-left” or “ultra liberal” or “rightist” or “conservative.” What the admired organizations hand out is published without question.

The UN’s Human Rights Council is never identified as a UN joke, controlled by the world’s leading defenders of liberty, free speech and democracy, with members including China, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, to name a few. Missing from current membership is Libya, whose late unlamented leader, Muammar Gadhafi, served as the Council’s first illustrious chairman.

Other groups may not get this uncritical treatment. Reporters’ favorites are the labels “left leaning” and “right-leaning.” Readers or viewers are expected to know exactly how far left and how far right the subject leans. Left-leaning can range from a yellow-dog Democrat to a staunch Marxist, from a liberal who sometimes votes Republican to a loyal Stalinist. Right-leaning can mean a Massachusetts Republican who sounds like a liberal to a Ted Cruz Republican who sounds like, well, Ted Cruz, or from a guy who simply doesn’t like wasteful state spending to a dreamer of the good old days of Genghis Khan.

Here’s an example, from the Washington Post, Feb. 17, 2017, with the lede: “Working-class white people are the biggest beneficiaries of federal poverty-reduction programs, even though black and Hispanic people have substantially higher rates of poverty, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.”

With the left-leaning label, the Post, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, immediately tells you which way the study is slanted. If the center were identified only as a think tank, the reporter and editor would want you to know the study is straight, objective, and, of course, highly reliable.

Out of curiosity, I checked the Boston Globe archives, and found 444 examples of “left-leaning” and 173 of “right-leaning.” I’ll let a journalism school assign some students to figure out why the big difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *