Words of the Times: Paper Backpedals on Use of "Broadly" to Describe the Air War on Libya

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May 1 2011 11:44 AM

Words of the Times: Paper Backpedals on Use of "Broadly" to Describe the Air War on Libya


The language of the New York Times is—as discussed here and

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—not quite American English, but a highly formalized code. Simple observations or

must be obscured or delegated, so that the newspaper can preserve its sacred function (or the appearance of its sacred function) of neutrally and modestly recording events, not judging them.



So: in our ongoing air war against the Libyan regime of Muammar Qaddafi,

reportedly killed three of the leader's grandchildren, "all said to be younger than 12."



But how is an objective newspaper to report on the fact that the humanitarian intervention might be killing underaged and nonmilitary targets? On the front page of this morning's late print edition, the Times struck a note so deadpan as to seem acerbic:


And while the deaths could not be independently verified, the campaign against Libya's most densely populated areas showed just how broadly NATO is taking its United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

"Broadly." But this was still too strong for the Times. The online version of the story has now been rewritten, with extra Timespeak cut into it like lard in a pie crust, so the tough bits flake apart:


And while the deaths could not be independently verified, the campaign against Libya’s most densely populated areas raised new questions about how broadly NATO is interpreting its United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

There: in the disembodied implied passive, questions were raised. About the interpretation of the mandate. And just like that, we have bounced gently away from the bomb crater to a discussion about the understanding of a policy.


Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.

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