I hope Tom LoBianco didn’t write this headline. I really like Tom, and the article is good, but I really hate the headline: “Legislators Use Patriotic Language To Help Bills Become Law, Some Say.” Some say?!?! Of course they do.
Using measures labeled “right to work” and “freedom to work” as examples of similarly named but very different pieces of legislation using the same rhetorical trick, the article goes to Kristen Sheeler:
“The intended response is a visceral or emotional response. If you can get at someone’s emotions, then they’re going to be more likely to react,” said Kristina Sheeler, chairwoman of the Department of Communication Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
By using words like “right” and “freedom,” which call to American cultural values, politicians try to win over as many people as possible while alienating as few as possible, she said.
“The words have power because they’re strategically ambiguous,” she said. “They’re so full of meaning, but the very specific meaning is not there.”
At LSA, we used to joke about this when drafting bills. “This law may be referred to as the Puppies and Kittens are Cute Bill of 2012.” Nevermind that it’s a pro-vivisection measure.
And, I think, the “Some Say” in that headline is part of why the trick works. Journalists generally do not feel free to call b.s. on a law’s title when it’s disingenuous. They have to resort to a bland, “he said/she said” faux objectivity. “Some say puppies won’t really be cute while being cut open.”