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The AP discovers words matter, but only when they apply to certain groups and political causes

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Over 30 years, The New York Times’ William Safire, who left this realm more than a decade ago, wrote more than 1,300 columns about language and grammar – how they were used and abused.

Where is he now that really need him? Because the Associated Press could probably benefit from Safire’s agile way of explaining English.

Speaking of explaining English, the AP on Thursday took a detour down “Sesame Street,” suggesting one of these things is not like the others when talking riots.

It failed miserably, if you, as the AP noted, believe that words matter.

The AP’s article noted that what first began as a “rally or protest” had evolved in almost real-time to “an assault, a riot, an insurrection, domestic terrorism or even a coup attempt.” What, no revolution? Rebellion? Insurgency?

We can expect politically charged Democrats to make politically loaded accusations about sedition. But the AP tried to help them by justifying why we should not call something for what it is.

Last June, after Minneapolis went up in flames and was covered in shattered glass, CBS News anchor and Oprah pal Gayle King asked the city’s police union chief why he labeled as terrorism the violence prompted by Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd. Lt Bob Kroll answered, “When you see arson taking place, windows being broke, Molotov cocktails being thrown, the police being shot at with live gunfire, thrown rocks and bricks at them, burning down a police precinct, the riotous conditions, that was a form of domestic terrorism, in my opinion.”

As it would be for most people. But the AP story also quoted King, who obviously felt terrorism was too strong a word for people burning down a city to make a political point – and take stuff – demanded on-air that CBS reporters not call the Trumpsters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 “protesters” even though they did nothing like the damage that was done in Minneapolis.

The AP agreed. “The Associated Press told staff members that protest was too mild a word. Phrases like ‘mob,’ ‘riot’ and ‘insurrection’ were appropriate.”

And so did most media – initially.

Per the AP: “The New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN have all used riot to describe the day. So have outlets with appeal to conservatives, like the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Newsmax and the Washington Examiner.” The conservative National Review, tongue fully in cheek noted, “Your rioters are worse than our rioters” in a headline.

And here we get to the hand-wringing.

“The near unanimity came despite riot sometimes being a loaded term, and a subject of debate for how it was applied last summer to unrest following George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter protests. Some feel it is too quickly applied to situations involving Black Americans,” the story noted.

“The use of ‘riot’ as a descriptor is almost universally accepted (for the Capitol attack), even though the word has become fraught with racial connotations and despite the relatively gradual way the story unfolded.”

This keeps with the nonsense we saw last summer when reporters would stand in front of burning cars and smashed storefronts in one major U.S. city after another and drone on about “mostly peaceful” protests.

George Orwell once wrote, “Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” That was penned in 1946 and remains true today.

Apparently one person’s riot is another’s … not riot?

Is there any wonder why we cannot find common ground – that there are “two Americas” – when the people hired to provide us basic information about events can look at the same activity and label it two different things, solely because of the skin color and political motivations of the people involved?

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