This means “war”? No, it doesn’t

A thoughtful reader wrote to ask that we at The N&O avoid using the language of war to refer to political campaigns. He listed a few terms that show up in political reporting: battleground states, all-out attack ads, war chest, opposing camps.

I was reminded of the reader’s words as I watched “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” one day last week. Rob Riggle was doing a report about the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, emphasizing that mainstream TV reports were calling the primary votes Tuesday “do or die.” In the bit titled “Mortal Kombat ’08,” Riggle said one candidate, Obama or Clinton, would win and the other one would die. Riggle, whose reports I love not just because he’s funny but also because he’s a former Marine who went to Iraq last year to report for “The Daily Show,” was spoofing the hyperbole of television reporters, anchors and especially spittle-spewing pundits. Of course, no primary vote is “do or die.” It’s just politics, people! And given that some of our leaders and candidates have been assassinated or nearly assassinated, it truly is uncomfortable to hear folks on TV talk about “do or die.” It’s just wrong.

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As a copy editor, I haven’t always been sensitive to war metaphors, but the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made me more aware. When a real war is going on, we who are writing about, say, the conflict between two presidential candidates or between a parent and a child over curfews, music or fashion need to be mindful of our language. We can write about conflict without reaching for words such as war, battle or combat. It’s harder, I guess, for the pundits on TV who have to talk all the time (Does Chris Matthews ever shut up?) to avoid such words, but as long as others of us in the news business have a chance to think about the words we put in print or on screen, we have a responsibility to avoid overheated language.

Perhaps I am taking this all too seriously. Maybe I should lighten up and not try to squelch colorful language. But our government has asked precious little of ordinary citizens during these current wars and I think this is something I can do to honor the sacrifices that our military men and women are making. I can reserve the words of war for actual wars.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.