Saturday, September 07, 2013

Spot the Political Weasel Words - how cliches keep politicians and reporters in business

Keep elected officials and journalists that cover them honest. Call out these slippery lines and clichés.

"Write this game at a time."
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 20, 2013

By Bill Tieleman

Crash Davis: "You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: 'We gotta play it one day at a time.'"
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: "Got to play... it's pretty boring."
Crash Davis: "'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down."
- Bull Durham, 1988
Ever heard awful, boring, clichéd words coming from the mouths of politicians and journalists?
Of course you have -- practically daily if you watch television news and political panels!
Even the revered Peter Mansbridge, veteran anchor of CBC's The National, will regularly throw out one of the laziest questions in the media lexicon: "What do you make of this?"
Well, I make that it's a classic cliché that abdicates the interview entirely to the person asked. But it's hardly the only terrible turn of phrase.
For example, has any cabinet minister in recent memory "resigned" because of their role in something gone wrong? No. Instead we hear weasel words like this, after the BC Liberal ethnic outreach scandal earlier this year:
"When mistakes occur, and they do, we must confront them and take responsibility for them. I've talked to [John Yap], and he has agreed that he is going to step aside from cabinet," Premier Christy Clark told media in March.
"Step aside?" Is he square dancing? Will he step back inside shortly? No, Yap resigned, but don't expect the truth to be told. Unless, of course, a politician is desperately trying to sound sincere in interviews.
"To tell you the truth" and "to be honest" or "to be frank" are other classics -- because isn't the politician already supposed to be telling the truth?
B.C. Deputy Premier Rich Coleman is a master, getting two clichés into one short sentence.
"I think, quite frankly, the proponent here didn't do a great job of that, to be honest with you," Coleman said in 2011 while referring to a proposed mine.
No one is immune
Other annoying pseudo-aphorisms include the catchphrase "but at the end of the day," a signal that after blathering on for ages, a politician or journalist is about to finally, mercifully come to some conclusion that often contradicts what they've previously said.
No less an admired columnist as Chantal Hébert is not immune to using a cliché as a journalistic crutch. Writing on federal Conservative challenges in June, Hébert uncorked this one in the Toronto Star.
"With ongoing investigations into Senate spending, the upper house will almost certainly continue to give the government more than its share of headaches between now and the 2015 election," Hébert wrote.
"But at the end of the day it is the abrupt loss of a chief of staff with a central role in the operations of the government that falls in the potentially more lethal category of political injuries," she concluded, cliché confirmed.
Of course, if you are constantly concocting clichés there's only one thing to do -- promise to end the practice "on a go forward basis"!
Otherwise, to be honest, at the end of the day, you may have to step aside.


1 comment:

Eleanor Gregory said...

My favourite political weasel phrase is "I can't answer that question, but what I can tell you is that...blah, blah, blah." Control the conversation by talking about what you want to talk about and don't answer questions you don't want to answer. Stay on message.