PC language at NPR

I heard an interesting example of politically correct editing on Morning Edition today.

In a story about how an LA synagogue used a federal law that exempts religious groups from most land-use regulations, reporter Alex Cohen referred to one opponent of the synagogue “who happens to be Jewish”. That mildly annoying “happens to be” is a clumsy PC synonym for “is”, intended to connote…well, I’m not exactly certain what it’s intended to connote. After all, the guy’s Jewish and it’s relevant to the story.

What’s interesting is that KQED ran the same story ten minutes later as part of the “California Report”. In that, virtually identical, version Cohen says that the neighborhood opponent “is Jewish”. I wonder what editorial process that led to this difference, and what the Morning Edition stylebook says about this usage.

One thought on “PC language at NPR

  1. George Carlin has a bit, “happens to be black”; here’s a clip: http://www.laugh.com/main_pages/video_play.asp?miid=646
    “Happens to be” has a curious grammar. Carlin’s bit suggests that it implies surprise, but I don’t think that’s essential. More like contingency (vs necessity).
    WRT NPR’s Morning Edition, our (mine & Barry’s) local outlet, KQED, broadcasts ME three times in the morning, starting at 3am. I’ve heard very rough phone interviews in the first version get edited in later versions so that some very awkward moments and phrasing were completely nipped out, along with ums and ahs. Which doesn’t go to the issue of style guides, but does suggest that multiple broadcasts are (or can be) quite different.
    Vaguely related: try listening to (say) Bob Edwards’ interviews. I hadn’t realized the extent to which they’re set pieces. At least it sounds like they are once one is concious of it. It sounds very scripted, in a way that I didn’t find obvious early on.

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