Sometimes the conventions of journalistic “objectivity” reach the point of self-parody.
Consider this headline and subhead from the New York Times website:
Fox Forced to Address Michelle Obama Headline
In referring to the candidate’s wife, the network used a slang term that many found offensive.
The Fox “headline” involved (actually a chyron: text that appears on a TV screen) was:
Outraged Liberals: Stop picking on Obama’s baby mama
The Times news story itself (far better written than the headline) explains the meaning of “baby mama.”:
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as one “chiefly in African-American usage” that refers to, “The mother of a man’s child, who is not his wife nor (in most cases) his current or exclusive partner.”
“A term that many found offensive”? Who, pray, didn’t find it offensive to classify a wife as equivalent to a casual girlfriend who got pregnant, and to do so using a black slang term when the couple involved happens to be black?
But the subhead suggests, to anyone who doesn’t click through to the story, that Fox was simply another victim of the politically correct language police: the sort of people who find, or purport to find, the word “niggardly” offensive either because they don’t know what it means or because they like to stir up trouble and force other people to apologize. This is the result of the subhead-writer’s reluctance to characterize this especially nasty bit of Fox filth as “offensive;” instead, the offense must be projected onto an unnamed “many.”
This avoids the headline-writer’s seeming to take sides. But it does so at the expense of clarity. The expression was offensive, and was intended offensively. Why not say so?
Footnote Linguistically, what I think is going on is that in Ebonic, which is less inflected than Standard English, a noun such as “baby” doesn’t inflect (by adding ‘s) when used in the possessive. So the Standard English version of the phrase would be “Obama’s baby’s mama,” which seems like a perfectly clear way of specifying the relationship between a man and a woman not his partner who is nonetheless the mother of his child, and of course an absurdly disgusting way to refer to the relationship between a man and his wife.
Second footnote I keep wondering when the people — not all of them McCain trolls — who argue that Democratic women and men with feminist sympathies ought to vote Republican this year, or cast some throwaway vote, or stay home, in order to protest the misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton, will notice that the attack on Michelle Obama is the same as the attack on Hillary Clinton when Bill was a candidate and then President, which in turn was the same as the attack on Eleanor Roosevelt. The only difference this time is the addition of racism to the sexism. I note with gratification that Taylor Marsh, virulently anti-Obama until last Saturday, isn’t having any of that nonsense, thank you.