The three most worthless words in journalism


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New words come along all the time.

Merriam-Webster added hundreds to its dictionary in 2019. “Buzzy” is anything everyone can’t stop talking about. You might be “swole” if you have bulging muscles. A “detectorist” is someone who searches for hidden treasure with a metal detector.

Language is something that’s on the move, and it’s fun trying to keep up with it.

But while a lot of great words get added to the dictionary, some should be removed. At least in the world of journalism. Especially with 24/7 cable news, they’ve become huge time wasters.

The word “anonymous” doesn’t belong anywhere in a news story.

The Society of Professional Journalists advocates questioning sources’ motives before promising anonymity. That presumes, though, that the one doing the questioning is unbiased. When some news reporters openly cried while the 2016 presidential election results were coming in, it’s safe to say they’re biased and not capable of questioning motives of anonymous sources. Even when the motive is extremely blatant, like the 2018 New York Times anonymous hit piece, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”

Sometimes reporters get information off the record. It can help them gain a better understanding of complicated issues. But the information should stay out of print and off the airways until the anonymous source gets braver.

Just say no to anonymous pieces.

“Credible” is another nothing word.

What exactly does it mean to be credible? Apparently, it is something that could be true or might be true or seems to be true.

Which is nothing.

There are some really good liars in this world. So good that they’re credible.

Still doesn’t make their words true or factual.

All it took were “credible” accusers to turn the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh into an unjust mission to destroy his good name and reputation. In the end, no facts corroborated these supposedly credible storytellers and some have recanted their accusations.

Bury the word, “credible.” It just doesn’t mean much anymore.

“Hypocrisy” is a greatly overused word and like all greatly overused words, it gradually becomes ineffective. It gets volleyed back and forth equally well by both Democrats and Republicans.

It’s come up a lot lately, comparing the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton to the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Many Republicans feel the Democrats are hypocrites for not following the same fair process as the Clinton impeachment. Many Democrats feel the Republicans are hypocrites for denouncing the Trump impeachment when they were all too happy to impeach Clinton.

And the talking heads on cable news gladly repeat these hypocrisy rants.

This word, though, is a time burner.

For starters, imperfect human beings will always be susceptible to being hypocritical. Even mostly fair-minded people can trip up and judge others more harshly than they judge themselves. It’s a universal illness.

Then add a layer of politics to the malady. Politics has devolved into a power game, and the constant struggle for power guarantees that the word, “hypocrisy,” will be used far too often.

Let’s just agree that we’re all, in some way, hypocrites. Then, it no longer becomes a unique or helpful identifier.

We can’t control which words are used by the media. As consumers of the news, though, we have the power to tune out and move on when we hear the words, “anonymous,” “credible,” and “hypocrisy.” They’re trigger words for media time that is about to be wasted.

Don’t waste time.

Words are beautiful. Ingest them wisely.

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