Playing fast and loose with the language

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Playing fast and loose with the language

It sure feels as if major newsrooms are running out of things to be angry about.

The Washington Post complained this week that Discovery’s annual “Shark Week” program was too “white,” too male-dominated, and that it overrepresents men named “Mike.”

Really. This is a real thing.

“‘Shark Week’ lacks diversity, overrepresents men named Mike, scientists say,” the original Washington Post headline read. The subheading read, “Researchers say Discovery’s programming overwhelmingly featured White men as experts while emphasizing negative messages about sharks.”

The report’s opening lines read: “Lisa Whitenack loved sharks as a kid. She spent rainy days leafing through a guide to sharks in Reader’s Digest. Every summer, she would watch ‘Shark Week,’ Discovery’s annual TV event that spotlights the ocean predator with seven days of dedicated programming. But when the scientists appeared on her TV screen, she rarely saw any women she could look up to.”

“Why would I know I could do that?” Whitenack told the Washington Post. “I don’t come from a family of scientists. I didn’t see very many people that looked like me on television.”

Though it’s tempting to presume the article is satire or, at the very least, that it was written tongue-in-cheek, rest assured it is not. It is deadly serious.

It adds: “When the pandemic lockdowns came in 2020, [Whitenack, now a biology professor at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania] saw an opportunity to study the source of her old misconceptions. Was ‘Shark Week’ feeding audiences the wrong messages about sharks — and who studies them?”

To answer this question, Whitenack assembled a team of researchers, tasking them with the chore of watching hundreds of past “Shark Week” episodes, aired between 1988 and 2020, to determine whether white men really do overrepresent the number of experts featured on the popular television program.

“In a study published last month by the Public Library of Science,” the Washington Post reported, “their research claims that Discovery’s programming emphasized negative messages about sharks, lacked useful messaging about shark conservation and overwhelmingly featured White men as experts — including several with the same name.”

It adds: “Whitenack’s study found that the trend persisted throughout almost all of the television event’s history. Over 90 percent of the 229 experts featured in 201 “Shark Week” episodes were White, the study found, and about 78 percent were men.”

The following is a real passage from the study [emphasis added]:

“Shark Week programming has previously been criticized for overwhelmingly featuring white men as experts in their programming [46] and we were left with the same impression after viewing 201 episodes. 93.9% of experts were white or white-perceived by our coders, with only 6.1% of experts perceived as non-white. 24 out of 201 episodes included at least one host/expert perceived by coders as non-white; only one episode included more than one host/expert perceived as non-white. Based on our search of biographies, interviews, and social media posts, no experts used non-binary pronouns or publicly mentioned being trans. 78.6% of hosts/experts were associated with male pronouns (an online biography for two hosts/experts was not readily available via Google search), whereas the remaining hosts/experts (20.1%) were associated with female pronouns (Fig 6).”

Far be it from me to dismiss scientific studies, but here’s a thought: If you all have the time and inclination to watch hundreds of hours of “Shark Week” episodes, only to determine there are not enough transgender people or people with nonbinary pronouns represented on the show, perhaps you all are in the wrong field of study. 

Earlier, in 2020, marine biologist Catherine Macdonald likewise complained that “Shark Week” has too damn many white men.

“‘Shark Week’ further concentrates power (in the form of publicity and media attention) in the hands of white male ‘featured scientists,’ exacerbating academic power imbalances,” she said.

Ah, there it is. There’s the real reason behind the griping. This isn’t about “diversity” and “inclusion” for the children or whatever. This is about self-promotion and “power”-sharing. These people don’t care about young viewers. They care that they’re not the ones appearing on “Shark Week,” their names and titles blasted all over the world. They’re merely trying to boost their careers and personal clout, and they’re doing it under the all-purpose, nearly unassailable guise of “inclusivity.”

David Shiffman, an Arizona State University conservationist who helped co-author Whitenack’s study, confirmed: “The programming featured more White experts and commentators named ‘Mike” than women.”

“When there are hundreds of people of color interested who work in this field, [and] when my field is more than half women, maybe it’s not an accident anymore that they’re only featuring White men,” he added.

Unsurprisingly, Discovery did not respond to the Washington Post’s request for comment. Presumably, because they were laughing too violently to type.

Again, not satire 

Speaking of deadly earnest news reporting that reads as satire, Politico published a doozy this week characterizing Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband as “America’s foremost Jewish political figure.”

I refer to him as “Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband” because I dare you to recall his name from memory. You likely can’t, which is why the “America’s foremost Jewish political figure” title reads more like a punchline than earnest journalism.

“A few months ago,” reads the report authored by Eugene Daniels and Sam Stein, “second gentleman Doug Emhoff asked his team about what more he could do about the rise of antisemitic incidents across the country. The issue had long concerned him. And in private conversations with other Jewish figures, he’d conveyed a desire to do something more forceful about it. His team decided that a roundtable with top officials would be appropriate. A few weeks ago, they started planning for it.”

It adds [emphasis added]: “But things took a turn around the Thanksgiving break, when news emerged that former President Donald Trump had dined with two notable antisemitic figures: white nationalist Nick Fuentes and Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. Overnight, the roundtable that Emhoff had been planning became the most pointed administration response to a brewing national controversy. Come Wednesday, when top White House officials and Jewish leaders convene for it, it will further cement a status he never set out to have: America’s foremost Jewish political figure.”

On social media, Stein remarked that Emhoff has embraced “the burden of being the most prominent Jew in American politics.”

But is Emhoff, whom you may or may not have even heard of, and whom you may or may not have even known is Jewish, really more prominent than actual leaders with actual powers and authority, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), or even White House chief of staff Ron Klain?

For Politico, the answer is “yes!” Yes, Harris’s husband is “America’s foremost Jewish political figure,” more prominent than even the leader of the Senate.


The Associated Press, a global newswire whose in-house style guide dictates the reporting language used by hundreds of newsrooms, is playing fast and loose with the English language. Again.

The AP this week highlighted a slight, but important, tweak to its Stylebook. To wit, it has ordered its staff to avoid using the term “late-term abortion” when referring to abortions performed in the third trimester.

“Do not use the term late-term abortion,” the newswire advised in a December update. “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines late term as 41 weeks through 41 weeks and 6 days of gestation, and abortion does not happen in this period. Instead, use the term abortion later in pregnancy if a general term is needed, but be aware that there are varying definitions of the time period involved. Be specific when possible: abortions after XX weeks when XX is known in the context of the specific story.”

It adds: “Most U.S. abortions take place in the first trimester. By some definitions, any abortions after that — at 13 weeks or later in pregnancy — are considered later abortions. Others use the term for abortions that occur at about 20 weeks or later, or near the time when a fetus is considered viable.”

Yes, really.

Taking its cue from the pro-abortion American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the AP wants to redefine “late-term abortion” to refer only to abortions performed “41 weeks through 41 weeks and 6 days of gestation.” An abortion performed at 40 weeks of gestation, a full nine months into the pregnancy and when the unborn child has developed coordinated reflexes, the ability to blink and close his eyes, to turn his head, to grasp firmly, and respond to external stimuli, including sights, sounds, and touch? That’s not a “late-term abortion,” according to the AP. Abortions performed at 40 weeks are simply abortion somewhere “later in pregnancy.” Who’s to say, really?

You know, if it’s clean and plain language the AP wants, it should also ditch the euphemistic “abortion” in favor of the much clearer and unambiguous term “kill.” After all, the language tweaks are all about promoting the AP’s mission to advance “the power of facts,” right?

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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