Patrick Cockburn writes: “Never believe anything until it is officially denied,” is a useful saying, advising scepticism towards whatever the government claims to be doing. This is the right mental attitude for any journalist or observer of the political scene. But for sniffing out official or journalistic mendacity, evasion and ignorance, a good guide is the use of tired and misleading words or phrases, their real purpose being not to illuminate but to conceal.
Suspicion of an attempt to deceive should be aroused by any sighting of the word “community”, as in “international community” or “Islamic community”: the phrases suggest solidarity and consensus of opinion where it does not exist. More toxic are policies pretending that there is something called “the community” that can look after people hitherto cared for by the state. When care in the community was introduced in Britain, it meant that people living in mental hospitals which were being sold by the government were kicked out to be looked after by a community that either feared or ignored them.
Certain words should set alarm bells ringing. Description of anything as “robust” is usually bad news because it implies effective measures are going to be taken, when this is unlikely. For instance, Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Minister, seeking to defuse the scandal over the West Coast railway, promised a “robust investigation”. On the other hand, robust, when applied to state security, means something unpleasant, so “robust interrogation” has become synonymous with torture. [Continue reading…]
A phrase in journalism that always irritates me because, defying the odds, it is now so commonplace is: rare glimpse.
The New York Times dishes out rare glimpses so often they have ceased being rare. They purport to offer a privileged view through a window to which no one other than a seasoned Times reporter would have access. What the phrase conceals is that these rare glimpses are invariably spoon fed to reporters who gladly regurgitate information supplied by government officials — officials who make their disclosures to these particular reporters because of their willingness to serve as dutiful stenographers.