Tilling soil and fertile ground — you might expect to see these terms on a gardening website. But in political news? This week’s spin list showcases metaphoric language about farming or gardening recently used in the news, from “budding ties” to “sowing divisions.” These spin words can “plant” vivid imagery in a reader’s mind, but aren’t indicative of fact-based reporting.
Spun version: “As Trump looks to reorient the nation’s high court with a replacement for retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, … he has delegated and outsourced much of the spadework.” (The Washington Post)
Un-spun version: President Donald Trump will nominate a new justice for the Supreme Court, after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. Trump said he would pick the nominee from a preselected list of 25 candidates, as he did when nominating Neil Gorsuch last year.
Why does it matter? Taken literally, “spadework” is work done with a spade or shovel, but it can also mean “the hard plain preliminary drudgery in an undertaking.” Using it in this context, it can imply that Trump is avoiding doing hard work (alternatively, he could just be delegating.)
#2. Take root
Spun: “As nationalism and populism take root in various corners of Europe and Germany itself, observers say Ms. Merkel is a political dead woman walking.” (The New York Times)
Un-spun version: Parties described as “nationalist” and “populist” have increased in popularity in some European nations in recent years. For example, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won 13 percent of the vote in the general election last fall.
Analysts have commented on Merkel’s recent loss of political support. “If she doesn’t go down now, she goes down in the next crisis,” said Andrea Römmele of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Why does it matter? Saying the ideologies have “taken root” provides only a vague picture of how support for them has grown in Europe, rather than giving data about which parties have gained support and by how much.
#3. Fertile ground
Spun: The Appalachian coalfields “were fertile ground for the great environmental theme of the Trump campaign: the ‘War on Coal.’” (The Atlantic)
Un-spun version: Trump won two counties in the Appalachian coalfield area by between 83.2 and 84.9 percent. While campaigning, Trump said he would fight the “war on coal,” as he called it.
Why does it matter? The people in these areas did largely agree with Trump’s platform on coal, and the voting results show this. The spin emphasizes in a dramatic way that Trump used these voters to his advantage, or that they were productive for him.
#4. Betting the farm
Spun: “Betting the farm: Why the heartland still believes in Trump despite plunging prices” (NBC News)
Un-spun version: Chinese tariffs took effect on Friday, affecting products from agricultural states in the U.S. midwest and Great Plains states, which mostly voted in favor of Trump in 2016. Farmers interviewed by NBC News said they still supported Trump and trust his negotiating strategy.
Why does it matter? The idiom (“betting the farm”) suggests farmers are risking everything to maintain their support for Trump.
#5. Sown deep divisions
Spun: “Brexit has sown deep divisions in Labour too, with dozens of lawmakers defying the leadership in a vote last month.” (Bloomberg)
Un-spun version: Members of the Labour party voted in favor of an amendment to allow the U.K. to retain membership of the European Economic Area (staying in the single market). Labour party leadership had instructed the party to abstain on the vote.
Why does it matter? The wording minimizes the politicians from the equation and personifies “Brexit” instead. Rather than politicians having differing views on the issues, it is Brexit itself that is responsible for the divisions.
#6. Till the ground
Spun: “Trump and senior White House officials already are personally lobbying key senators, laboring to till the ground ahead of what is expected to be a ferocious nomination battle.” (The Washington Post)
Un-spun version: President Donald Trump will nominate a new justice for the Supreme Court, after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. The Washington Post reported that Trump and White House officials are personally lobbying senators ahead of the Senate confirmation process.
Why does it matter? Trump and officials are cultivating the earth with their lobbying efforts? The metaphor is more fitting in a novel than the news.
#7. Weeded out
Spun: Some parents were “weeded out of eligibility for sponsorship of children in the vetting process.” (The New York Times)
Un-spun version: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the vetting process of immigrant parents to be reunited with children who had been separated at the border had already eliminated some parents from eligibility, because their records included crimes such as child cruelty or rape.
Why does it matter? Weed out can mean “to remove (people or things that are not wanted) from a group.” Yet readers might associate the term with pulling weeds out of garden, which could subtly trivialize the vetting process.
#8. Sow fear
Spun: “Killings sow fear inside Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh” (Reuters)
Un-spun version: Nineteen people have been killed in Bangladesh refugee camps that house Rohingya who have left Myanmar. (Also note: Bangladesh has deployed thousands of extra police and made some arrests, but have not established a motive in many cases.)
Why does it matter? The situation is tragic enough as is. No need to further dramatize it.
#9. Budding ties
Spun: “Before the June summit, North Korea imposed a moratorium on its nuclear and missile tests, shut down its nuclear test site and released three American detainees. These moves helped build budding ties with the United States.” (Associated Press)
Un-spun version: Before the June summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea announced it was stopping its nuclear and missile tests, as well as shutting down its nuclear test site. It also released three U.S.-Korean detainees.
Why does it matter? The “budding” description may create a vivid imagery, but facts about what the party said about bilateral relations would be more informative.
#10. ‘Begin to flower’
Spun: White House national security adviser John Bolton said, “Then the elimination of sanctions, aid by South Korea and Japan and others can all begin to flower.” (Bolton, cited by CNN)
Un-spun version: It’s a fact that Bolton said this statement. He suggested that if North Korea “fully dismantled” its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs, then the sanctions would be removed and aid would be granted.
Why does it matter? Bolton’s description associates the removal of sanctions and aid with something usually considered beautiful (a flower). The language reinforces the notion that the result is the most desirable.