Washington Times updates style guide

With a new editor, the paper -- a conservative stalwart -- has made a shift toward using some more neutral terminology, and some on the right aren't happy.

Published February 27, 2008 12:42AM (EST)

When the Washington Times, the conservative newspaper founded and run by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, changed its top leadership recently, observers expected that more change would be coming. They weren't wrong -- with the replacement of executive editor Wes Pruden by John Solomon, who has extensive experience at more mainstream media outlets, we've already seen one small but meaningful change to the paper's coverage. The Times has altered several elements of its style guide, telling staffers to use more neutral terminology instead of the doctrinaire wording and scare quotes favored by the previous editorial regime. In an e-mail memo that has been widely circulated now, one editor wrote:


Here are some recent updates to TWT style.

1) Clinton will be the headline word for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

2) Gay is approved for copy and preferred over homosexual, except in clinical references or references to sexual activity.

3) The quotation marks will come off gay marriage (preferred over homosexual marriage).

4) Moderate is approved, but centrist is still allowed.

5) We will use illegal immigrants, not illegal aliens.

Some conservatives are already upset by the changes at former President Reagan's favorite newspaper. In a post on her blog, titled "P.C. at the Washington Times," Michelle Malkin wrote, "Soon, they'll drop 'illegal' from 'illegal immigrants.' Then, it'll be 'undocumented immigrants.' Then, they'll just go the Harry Reid route and call them 'undocumented Americans.'" Malkin also favorably cited blogger Chris Kelly at Lonewacko, who wrote that the "illegal immigrants" change might "indicate that the Washington Times is starting down the slippery slope towards being like the Washington Post." Similarly, blogger Extreme Mortman joked, "Bad news illegal aliens -- you don't exist anymore. So sayeth the Washington Times. Now that illegal aliens don't exist anymore, maybe they can likewise make my parking tickets disappear."

And on Newsbusters, the blog of the Media Research Center, a conservative press watchdog, Tim Graham wrote that the new styles "underlin[e] the 'mainstream' mistake -- that whatever the reigning liberal sensibilities are in our news template, often defined by minority journalist groups, are defined as 'neutral.'

"Liberals joke that the Times would put 'gay marriage' in quotes, but the media mainstream is so sensitive in the other direction that they don't even want to use 'partial-birth abortion' in quotes, so they tie themselves into vague and confusing pretzels about 'certain late-term procedures which we don't want to describe out of our fear of being rapped on the knuckles with a ruler by Kate Michelman and Gloria Feldt ...' This memo in no way means that Solomon is turning the Times into a liberal newspaper. You'd need more than a lingo change to arrive there. But it does suggest that Solomon has his eyes on impressing the national media elite, and not just impressing the inside-the-Beltway readership of the Times."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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