U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who learned to her deep regret that words have power, wants an employee of the United Nations sacked for saying the wrong thing.
Richard Falk, who monitors human rights for the world organization, had written that America's "world domination project" was partly to blame for inspiring the Boston Marathon bombing. Rice herself is still at the United Nations and not secretary of state for saying the September 2012 attack on our mission at Benghazi was the outgrowth of a spontaneous demonstration that whirled out of control in Libya.
Rice's pre-election words were patently false, probably politically motivated, but not socially and politically incorrect. Falk's acid words are definitely politically incorrect, so much so that Rice forgot herself and Tweeted it was time for Falk "to go." It may be a distinctly American happening that the way someone says things, more than underlying facts, are the dominating social and political motivator now.
And so, the Senate's emerging immigration bill is called "a path toward citizenship" instead of "amnesty" for "illegal immigrants" as it plainly was in 1986. One reason is that there are thousands of children of those emigres now who vote Democratic.
In support of this path, many want the media to stop using the term "illegal immigrant." Among these is Fernando Chavez, an attorney and son of 1960s United Farm Workers icon Cesar Chavez.
The younger Chavez told me that yes, sneaking into the United States without authority is an illegal act, and even could be a criminal act. But Chavez insisted that broad use of the phrase is prejudicial to the innocent children of such persons, and those here on student and other visas.
The harvest of this term is ethnic bigotry, he maintained. Is there no one who can be fairly termed an "illegal immigrant?" I asked. Chavez couldn't think of any. "Undocumented immigrant," Chavez said, should be the description.
Chavez and his friends demonstrated outside the New York Times last week against the newspaper's use of the term "illegal immigrant." In a statement, the Times did not agree to completely stop using the phrase but said it would direct its staff to be more precise in its use.
This would be in keeping with a recent edict of the Associated Press, the media organization that provides raw material for almost all the nation's newspapers and radio and television news broadcasts. The AP amended its Stylebook, widely used in media and journalism schools, to essentially drop the term "illegal immigrant" to describe a person.
Three weeks ago, the AP put out guidance on the term "Islamist." The word has been used increasingly to describe terrorists, such as al-Qaida, and so forth, and the suspected Boston Marathon bombers. The AP's complicated rules are a challenge to headline writers, bloggers and broadcasters and will probably result in that term being dropped.
Over time, the AP Stylebook developed industry uniformity on abbreviations and punctuation, and settled disagreements on when to use Mr., Mrs. and Ms., doctor, and now "husband" and "wife" in same-sex couples.
But has the AP now crossed an ideological line by directing its staff and influencing newsrooms to discourage use of words that may conflict with a legislative push or run counter to the Obama administration's dislike of terms like terrorist?
David Minthorn, AP's top Stylebook editor, says not. "The Stylebook is a reflection that life is constantly changing," he told me. "The Stylebook has to wrestle with events all the time to ensure that our work is accurate, precise and objective." There was strong disagreement, he acknowledged, among AP staffers on dropping "illegal immigrant." But none on "Islamist."