The Peach State prepares for a political frenzy as a pair of January runoffs determine the balance of the Senate—and the shape of the presidency
I don’t keep close records, so I can’t tell you exactly how many of you readers objected when in last summer’s Aug. 20 issue I referred to Fox News as a “sleazy” outfit. Many of you protested. How, you said, could I possibly diminish the contribution of the only network that gives conservatives a fair shake?
But I wasn’t referring to Fox’s news coverage, which I tend overall to think is both balanced and accurate. I chose the word “sleazy” because I knew how offensive Fox’s image was to so many women—and understandably so. Again and again, members of the Fox team chose the low road with their off-color humor and allusions.
Now, of course, the departure of CEO Roger Ailes and veteran newsman Bill O’Reilly—both for apparent sleazy behavior—suggests that maybe “sleazy” was the right word after all. But the wrong four words right now would certainly be, “I told you so!” Instead, let’s use that bit of news from Fox to reflect on the whole exercise of how we choose and use words.
I’ve said here before that when God called on Adam, very early in the history of the world and of human experience, to name all the animals, our Creator was in fact putting on a dual demonstration. On the one hand, He was showing off the penultimate aspect of His incredibly imaginative handiwork. Adam must have been stunned—even in his early, unfallen condition. But on the other hand, God was also apparently eager to show Adam the critical importance of language and words as tools for stewardship of the new creation. To this very day, both are wonderful gifts from God—the creation itself, and the words He gives to describe, analyze, understand, develop, and enhance it.
Words help us crystallize the blur of our experience.
Words by their nature are intended to make distinctions. That’s why you need so many of them. For Adam, aardvark meant one thing, antelope another, ant still another, and anteater something radically different—especially for ants. It’s not at all clear that Adam, at that early date, had to distinguish between cocker spaniels and German shepherds, but at least the pattern was established that God was providing a means to sort things out.
Indeed, as my wife reminded me years ago, the whole work of creation involved this process. God started by sorting out light from darkness, evening from morning, and sky from waters. After a busy week, He was still sorting out male from female, and teaching Adam the wonderful importance of going on and on with a never-ending, word-by-word description of such distinctions. To this day, it is key to the human experience to use words to make distinctions.
Let me use a few words here, in fact, to make a distinction between words and other art forms. Great paintings, trumpet concertos, ballet performances, and even baseball games are typically powerful not because of the specificity of what they portray, but because of their ambiguity. “I see this in it,” says one observer—but the observer’s companion sees something totally different. Such is the wonder of ambiguity.
Words too can be ambiguous, but such ambiguity is only a subset of their chief function. Words in the end are meant to distinguish, to sort out, to help us say, “This, not that.” It’s the reason, after all, that we run for the dictionary. It is also why we crave written critiques after visiting the art museum, going to a concert, watching a ballet—or going to a baseball game. Words help us crystallize the blur of our experience.
And, I dare say, you bring that same expectation into your relationship with WORLD. That’s the case either in this paper-and-ink format, on our website, or on our daily podcast. You have come to anticipate that our reporters, writers, and editors will choose the right words when they describe what has happened over the last couple of weeks over at Fox News, at the White House, at Mar-a-Lago, in France’s presidential election, or in South Sudan.
So let me speak honestly. “Sleazy” really wasn’t the word I wanted the day I wrote that column. I remember pausing, consulting my dictionary and then my thesaurus, but finding nothing closer to the adjective I wanted to use to describe Fox News. What word would you have used last August? What word would you use now?