As a writer, I am keenly interested in the linguistic choices made by other writers. The English language is a fascinating pantry full of rich ingredients. In the world of print and opinion journalism, the headline is supposed to be the carnival barker, inviting you to “come inside and see the show.” All too often these days, however, the headline is the show.
One such headline appeared in the New York Times (11/26/10). “Health Law Faces Threat of Undercut From Courts,” wrote Kevin Sack and Robert Pear. The unambiguous headline leaves little doubt about the perspective of the writers or the information that follows. The subject, of course, is the mandate provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the lawsuits that are making their way through the court system.
Sack and Pear write, “Because the Supreme Court has said the commerce clause of the Constitution allows Congress to regulate ‘activities that substantially affect interstate commerce,’ the judges must decide whether the failure to obtain insurance can be defined as an ‘activity.’” Where to begin?
Many see this as a nearly century-long judicial overreach in the ever-broadening definition of the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause. Even the most liberal-minded among us might wonder if we really want the government to be able to compel us to engage in commerce and then dictate what may and may not be purchased.
Moreover, if Americans cannot today purchase health insurance across state lines, how can the courts invoke the Constitutional provision that sought to make commerce regular “among the several states”?
Nevertheless, a little more subtlety in the headline and a bit more nuance in the prose might reveal less of the bias and more of the facts. This is nothing new for the lamestream media in general and for the New York Times in particular. In 1997, Newt Gingrich, writing in that same newspaper, called for similar changes in reporting and suggested that, “If Thomas Edison invented the electric light today; it would be reported on the evening news that the candle-making industry was threatened.”
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