February 19th, 2012
09:28 AM ET

Letters to the President #1126: 'Loaded language'

Reporter's Note: President Obama can count on a letter from me every single day. Just as I can count on no reply.  Apparently.

Dear Mr. President,

It is no secret to you, of course, that you’ve been a tad embroiled in an issue lately…a debate about either A) women’s health issues or B) religious freedom. I present it that way because this is one of those tricky stories which can really trip up a journalist. If you openly define it as being about A or B, in a sense, you can be accused of having chosen a side.

And that is unfortunate, because it makes discussion of the issue extremely problematic.

Think about that hearing on Capitol Hill. There was Nancy Pelosi and some other female lawmakers screaming about how ridiculous it was for such a hearing to involve testimony from so few women. Fair enough. The problem is, however, their complaints matter only if you buy the notion that this is fundamentally a debate about women’s health care. If you see it as a matter of religious freedom, who cares whether men or women are driving the talks?

See what I mean? That is a tiger trap for a reporter, no matter how fair he or she wants to be. For my part, whenever I’ve encountered such a matter, I try to turn on the burners and boil it to the essence. I ask myself, “If I reduced this debate to one sentence, would the essence of it be A or B?” Then I report accordingly.

I don’t do that to choose sides, but rather to make reporting, and a discussion possible. Because if we are going to create circumstances in which the very language we use to start talking is suspect….then I imagine we will do little talking at all.