By Tim Graham
Andrew Beaujon of Poynter MediaWire reports that NPR standards editor Stuart Seidel asked reporters and editors to “please avoid overusing ‘Obamacare’” after the Maynard Institute’s minority-journalism blogger Richard Prince wrote him saying “the term can no longer be defended as neutral.” Prince said Obama isn’t using “Obamacare” in recent speeches.
Seidel explained “I’m not persuaded that the use of ‘Obamacare’ is wholly inappropriate, but I am persuaded that good effort needs [to be] made to avoid over-using it. I’m sharing that feeling with NPR’s editors and correspondents.”
Seidel’s memo said, ” ‘Obamacare’ seems to be straddling somewhere between being a politically-charged term and an accepted part of the vernacular. And it seems to be on our air and in our copy a great deal. (I haven’t counted, and I’m not going to count: numbers don’t add up to good journalism.) But word choices do leave an impression. Please avoid overusing ‘Obamacare.’ On first reference, it’s best to refer to the ‘Affordable Care Act’ or ‘the health care law.’ On later references, feel free to use ‘Obamacare’ but mix it up with other ways to refer to the law.”
AP is also bending under Prince’s questioning. AP’s Deputy Managing Editor and Standards Editor Tom Kent wrote in a blog post that the news co-op prefers its reporters use “the nation’s new health care law” since the Affordable Care Act’s “very name is promotional.”
At least Kent makes the point that “Affordable Care Act” is also a loaded term.
He added, “’Obamacare’ was coined by opponents of the law and is still used by them in a derogatory manner. It’s true that the White House, and even [President] Obama himself, have used the term on occasion. But the administration hasn’t totally embraced ‘Obamacare’ and still uses the Affordable Care Act much of the time. We’re sticking with our previous approach to ‘Obamacare’: AP writers should use it in quotes, or in formulations like ‘the law, sometimes known as Obamacare, provides for …’ ”
Other media outlets seemed to bend toward “Obamacare” usage only when Obama decided to use it, which isn’t exactly a formula for media independence. Among the Prince summaries of other media outlet policies:
— NBC: A spokeswoman who did not want to be identified said that once the administration started using the term “Obamacare,” the network decided it was acceptable.
— Los Angeles Times: Spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said, “LA Times reporters and editors may consider ‘Obamacare’ as an acceptable term for the Affordable Care Act. In recently revising our guidelines, senior editors responded to staff requests to allow the usage, in light of widespread public understanding of the term and the use of the term even by the White House and supporters of the act, not just opponents.” She said the revision took place last week.
— PBS NewsHour: Anne D. Bell, public relations manager, said, “Guidelines are to use Affordable Care Act as the first reference and then in subsequent references ACA, health care law or ‘Obamacare’ are acceptable alternatives.”
— Chicago Tribune: Joe Knowles, associate managing editor/editing and presentation, said he sent the following style entry to his staff on Wednesday: “Obamacare Note the lowercase ‘c.’ Acceptable in references to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which is frequently shortened to the Affordable Care Act.
Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.