Admit: Journalism’s Dirty Word

Okay.  Two things:

1) I am sick of people adding the suffix “-gate” to every catastrophe, disaster or scandal: most recently, Spygate (the Patriots spying on other teams or something like that; I detest football, so I’m not following the story) and Bittergate (Barack Obama’s comments on Pennsylvanians feeling bitter with George Bush).

And it becomes even more gauche in other situations.  One that sticks out in particular is Lifestylegate, which happened a few years ago on American Idol when Mandisa prefaced her gospel song with a speech about how your lifestyle shouldn’t hold you back from God, thus alienating her LGBT fans, and she had more gay fans than any other Idol to begin with (she was the big black diva!), so that wasn’t a smart move, and she got eliminated shortly after, but I have a point, I swear!  LIFESTYLEGATE?  No.  Just no.

It was called WATERGATE because that was the name of the building!  Don’t attach -gate to every scandal!

Secondly:

I’m watching the news on Fox right now.  Not Fox News — the local Boston affiliate (mostly because I just finished watching American Idol.  Go Cookie!  Also, the battery in the remote died a few days ago and I’m too lazy to get up and turn the TV off).

Anyway:

The anchor said a sentence along this line: “He admitted his homosexuality a few years ago.”

When I took my first journalism class at Fairfield University, I was taught that you need to be extremely careful with the word admit.  This is because the word denotes guilt.  Because of this, you rarely see the word in the news.

Above all, you must never use the word admit when someone says that he or she is gay.  When you use that word, you imply that being gay is something about which one should be ashamed.  Not only does it perpetuate homophobia, it also shows editorialism on the part of a journalist.

Well, it is Fox.

How can this happen?

Have any of you studied journalism?  What is your opinion on this?

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11 responses to “Admit: Journalism’s Dirty Word

  1. This is such a no-brainer to me, though my girlfriend had an interesting thought. What if Larry Craig revealed that he is, in fact, gay? Could it be say that, though he once claimed otherwise, he admits he is gay?

    I think, in that case, it seems to me to be an admission to the truth of the matter – admitting that he lied – and not so much an admission regarding his sexuality.

  2. I learned the SAME thing in journalism school, Kate. Of course, with Fox’s slant, being gay would be something to “admit.”

  3. Alexa Moutevelis

    What would be another word to convey the same thing – i.e. that he is gay, it is not just a rumor because he said so himself? Obviously not “confess.” And isn’t “came out” also along the lines of implying something is wrong?

  4. I was thinking that “revealed” would be a good word to use, or the less literary “said.”

    I think that “came out” is a neutral term. It was definitely neutral according to my journalism professor (who is an amazing professor, by the way — I learned more in his class than any other class I’ve ever taken).

  5. Grammar-gate!
    Kate-gate!
    Date-gate!
    Gate-gate!

  6. So what we agree on is that these misguided labels are annoying in aggregate.

  7. i care about someone’s sexual prefernce, why?

    i’m looking forward to the day when i can use “gay” to describe something stupid, which is really how i mean it when i say something like “news reports about someone admitting he is gay are so gay.”

  8. Has GAYGATE been discussed? Hehe.

    I agree with sawxfan on this one. The Fox slant probably has something to do with the acceptance of the term “admit” as an appropriate verb in this case.

    Here is where I plug Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” – the documentary is a little more abbreviated than the book – which goes over how media can be biased without being obvious about it. Journalists aren’t evil minions of a conspiratorial overlord, they are just humans with natural biases which tend to shine through even when they try to be careful. Some organizations, like Fox, really dig this when it’s in their favor.

    Thanks for pointing this out, and great blog. I’m actually about to email you a picture my boyfriend took with his phone on the way to work this morning of a hilarious license plate grammar issue that you can be the first to broadcast across the web.

  9. Just call me Joe

    I like to simply acknowlege that I’m fat – not admit it (with anything else that might imply).

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  11. Hm. Well, Fox news and their biases aside (since that was probably the reason in this particular case), I agree with dlipkin that not every use of the word “admit” necessarily implies that the thing being admitted is bad and wrong. I think that to “admit” something implies that you are reluctant to reveal it– for instance, if you’ve lied about it previously, or if you have been avoiding facing the topic and you are finally confronting it. Of course it’s often used to show that someone is reluctantly revealing wrongdoing, because that’s a common thing for someone in the news to be reluctant about. However, you could simply be reluctant to admit something because you preferred to avoid the topic.

    That’s the technical side, as far as I see it, but I believe a journalist’s social responsibility in such cases is to avoid using words that can so easily be misconstrued as criticism by those who are all too keen to have their own narrow worldviews reinforced by the media.

    So, I don’t think there is anything technically wrong with “admit” in this context, but it could still cause harm. In that case, journalists should definitely avoid it, because social responsibility is, all said and done, far more important than whether something can pass as technically correct (unless we’re holding him on trial for homophobia and trying to determine his intent).

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