Earlier today I noted that the New York Times doesn’t use the biased and misleading moniker of “right to work” when it does journalism on the kind of anti-organized labor laws that Michigan passed yesterday. I thought this was interesting, so I gave them a call to see if, in fact, the Old Gray Lady does avoid it on purpose.
Turns out they do. Here’s the response I got from Phil Corbett, the associate editor for standards:
Our stylebook has long cautioned reporters against using the “right to work” phrasing, on the grounds that it is a loaded term favored by one side in the debate. It also, frankly, just isn’t very informative to readers who don’t know what the fight is about.
This is a case where it’s best just to explain, tersely, exactly what the law would do. That’s what our reporters tried to do in today’s story.
For us, it’s not a question of taking sides, but of trying to use language that’s as neutral as possible. For similar reasons, we avoid using both “pro-choice” and “pro-life” to describe the sides in the abortion debate.
Here’s the story from today’s Times, and here’s how the reporter described the new Michigan law (emphasis mine):
…advocates of the legislation, which outlaws requirements that workers pay fees to unions as a condition of employment, lauded…
The Providence Journal ran an Associated Press story today that used the phrase. My 2002 AP Stylebook lists “right-to-work” as appropriate terminology. If the Associated Press and others are still using this term, they should revisit this decision as it’s both misleading and biased.
RI Future hosted a really interesting debate about it in the comments of my first post on this. It’s well worth giving them a read.