Top 10 spin words in the news this week
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Top 10 spin words in the news this week

December 23, 2017

Spin refers to words and phrases that aren’t fact-based, objective or measurable. Instead, they’re inherently vague or dramatic, and when reporters use them they’re often presenting their own opinion as if it were fact. Such language is useful in some types of writing, such as novels or poetry, but do these words belong in hard news?

Check out our top picks for spin in this week’s news, including multiple references to “crosshairs,” along with a brief explanation of why these words are important to detect. (We’ve marked the spin words in red so they’re easier to see.)

#1. Crosshairs

Spun: Not only was foreign aid in the crosshairs, but U.S. funding for the United Nations, too, [U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley] said. (Associated Press)

Un-spun: Haley, speaking  in the U.N. General Assembly, said that the U.S. will “remember [the U.N. vote] when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations.”

Why does it matter? The U.S. may indeed consider the General Assembly vote next time it contributes to the U.N. But that’s not the same as U.S. funding being “in the crosshairs,” which, taken literally, means it’s being targeted through the aiming device of a gun.

#2. EU crosshairs

Spun: Fast food chain McDonald’s and French energy company Engie are also in the EU crosshairs over their Luxembourg tax deals. (Reuters, The Daily Mail)

Un-spun: The EU is investigating the taxes McDonald’s and Engie paid in Luxembourg.

Why does it matter? Is investigating these companies the same thing as targeting them? The metaphor imports a sense of violence.

#3. Crosshairs of terrorist revenge

Spun version: Others say the fact that Italy’s role in the coalition against ISIS has been low key compared to other countries has kept Italy out of the crosshairs of terrorist revenge. (Fox News)

Un-spun version: Alessandro Orsini, a terrorism expert at Luiss University in Rome, says he believes “that ISIS leaders do not attack Italy because Italy does not attack ISIS leaders.”

Why does it matter? “Crosshairs of terrorist revenge” is so dramatic it could have been lifted from a Hollywood action adventure plot. But sensationalizing the conflict with Islamic State won’t help readers understand the actual issues or possible threats.

#4. Romping

Spun: After romping to victory in May’s presidential run-off, Macron’s popularity plummeted following the announcement of unpopular proposals to cut taxes for the wealthy and reform labor laws. (POLITICO)

Un-spun: Macron won 66.1 percent of registered votes in France’s presidential election last May. In August, he announced labor reform plans. In September his approval rating was 30 percent.

Why does it matter? Macron’s supposed “romping” is subjective and superfluous to the news at hand.

#5. Pilloried

Spun: A Canadian television personality is getting pilloried on social media after posting a photo of himself next to a cougar that he had killed. (BBC)

Un-spun: Steve Eckland, the hunter, said his Facebook post of the cougar kill received “900 likes, [and] 450 comments.” There was a mix of positive and negative comments.

Why does it matter? Eckland received both positive and negative comments, so calling him “pilloried” doesn’t accurately characterize that. The word also sensationalizes the criticism, which could invite further ridicule of Eckland.

#6. Thorniest obstacles

Spun: The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. (Reuters)

Un-spun: The status of Jerusalem is a significant area of conflict or disagreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Why does it matter? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is longstanding and complex, and the status of Jerusalem is a significant issue. But Reuters could communicate this through historical facts rather than calling it “thorny.”

#7. Careen

Spun: Careening around a curve at almost three times the speed limit, an Amtrak train derailed and hurled passenger cars off an overpass — and onto rush hour traffic below. (CNN)

Un-spun: An Amtrak train traveling at 80 mph around a curve with a posted speed limit of 30 mph derailed and some of the train’s passenger coaches fell off an overpass.

Why does it matter? The derailment caused three deaths and dozens of injuries. Many readers might find that significant in its own right, without needing media to dramatize the accident with words like “careening.”

#8. Dizzying ascent

Spun: Bitcoin’s dizzying ascent has prompted a number of high-profile figures in finance and economics to sound the alarm, cautioning that the currency’s boom is simply a huge bubble. (CNN)

Un-spun: Bitcoin’s price has increased 1,000 percent since the start of the year. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen described virtual currencies as “highly speculative.”

Why does it matter? The extra drama of words like “dizzying ascent” might not help investors make smart decisions as much as actual data would.

#9. Bolstered

Spun: The texts, which were turned over to the House Intelligence Committee and obtained by multiple news outlets Tuesday, bolstered the Republican effort to cast Mueller’s probe as compromised by political bias. (Daily Caller)

Un-spun: The DOJ released text messages from Peter Strzok, a then FBI agent who was dismissed from Mueller’s team for bias against Trump.

Why does it matter? This claim doesn’t actually tell us who did what with the text messages. Instead, it makes a generalization about the texts’ significance.

#10. Despite

Spun: The latest HealthCare.gov enrollment season closed with a surge of sign-ups, unexpectedly putting Obamacare enrollment on track to potentially match last year’s figures despite the GOP’s attacks on the health care law. (POLITICO)

Un-spun: The latest HealthCare.gov enrollment season closed with 8.8 million signed up for coverage. The Trump administration halved this year’s enrollment period to six weeks and reduced advertising by 90 percent. Republicans have put forth bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.  

Why does it matter? The word “despite” here implies that the Republicans’ actions were designed to decrease enrollment, and the word “unexpectedly” implies their strategy failed.  Although this may be the case, there is no data presented to back up this conclusion.  

Top Spin Words

  • Crosshairs
  • EU crosshairs
  • Crosshairs of terrorist revenge
  • Romping
  • Pilloried
  • Thorniest obstacles
  • Seemingly impossible endeavor
  • Careen
  • Dizzying ascent
  • Bolstered