The Associated Press issued style guidelines for the term “alt-right.” Also, other Stuff. (More)

“Be specific and call it straight”

The Associated Press Stylebook is a must-have resource for journalists. While the New York Times has its own style guide, as do some other outlets, most use the AP Stylebook. It’s so ubiquitous that many universities require journalism students to buy it.

The AP Stylebook is full of essential nuggets like Anglicized spellings of commonly-used foreign words and names (Moammar Gadhafi), as well as standards for capitalization (“a [lowercase] member of [capitalized] Congress was caught in an act of sexual [lowercase] congress”), hyphenation (no hyphen for clockwise or lengthwise, but hyphenate street-wise or penny-wise), punctuation (such as whether to have a comma after this parenthetical), and when to spell out numbers or use Arabic or Roman numerals.

We follow the AP standards here at BPI … with a few exceptions such as spelling out numbers for all constitutional amendments (we use Fourteenth Amendment; AP uses 14th Amendment), story title capitalization (we capitalize all words in a story title except for articles and prepositions; AP capitalizes only the first word and proper nouns), allowing the ellipsis-for-emphasis that introduced this list, and always using the Oxford comma before the last item in a list.

But sometimes the AP Stylebook takes on more substantive issues, as they did today in announcing guidelines for the term “alt-right”:

Recent developments have put the so-called “alt-right” movement in the news. They highlight the need for clarity around use of the term and around some related terms, such as “white nationalism” and “white supremacism.”

Let’s tackle them.

The “alt-right” or “alternative right” is a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States in addition to, or over, other traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low taxes and strict law-and-order.

The movement has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.

Of course some conservatives are furious, because how dare the AP not use the alt-right’s own self-definition. And AP Vice President for Standards John Daniszewski expressly rejects that demand:

Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.
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Be specific and call it straight

Finally, when writing on extreme groups, be precise and provide evidence to support the characterization.

We should not limit ourselves to letting such groups define themselves, and instead should report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them.

In other words, alt-rightists don’t get to whitewash their white supremacy, at least not in outlets that follow AP style guidelines.

I call that a win for truth.

“It’s a bit Orwellian to call it a ‘landslide’ or a ‘blowout.’”

Unlike, say, Kellyanne Conway’s demand that the media recognize President-elect Trump as a “Landslide Blowout Historic” winner:

Uh, no. Here’s FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver:

But in a historical context, Trump’s Electoral College performance is decidedly below-average. So it’s a bit Orwellian to call it a “landslide” or a “blowout.” There have been 54 presidential elections since the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804. (Before that, presidential electors cast two votes each, making it hard to compare them to present-day elections.) Of those 54 cases, Trump’s share of the electoral vote – assuming there are no faithless electors or results overturned by recounts – ranks 44th[.]
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By comparison, the average Electoral College winner claimed 70.9 percent of the available electoral votes, which would equate to 381 electoral votes given today’s total of 538 electors. For my money, it’s a bit much to call something a “landslide” when it can’t top that threshold.

I agree. A less-than-average margin of victory is hardly a “Landslide Blowout Historic” … unless you’re using the double standard that says anything less than an absolute failure is an absolute success (for the GOP), and anything less than an absolute success is an absolute failure (for Democrats).

“So why aren’t Democrats acting like it?”

Vox’s Ezra Klein addressed this last week:

More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. More Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than for Republican Senate candidates.

So why aren’t Democrats acting like it? Why aren’t they trying to force Republicans, the media, and the emergent Trump White House to act like it?
[…]
Thus far, Democrats have slipped comfortably into the position of minority party. They aren’t demanding that Trump put forward compromise candidates for key posts. They aren’t laying out a proactive agenda that would serve as their basis for negotiations with Trump and the Republicans. And they aren’t, in their public messaging, emphasizing that most voters opposed Trump’s agenda, and that both Democrats and Republicans need to take that seriously.

Democrats have confused the reality of being out of power with the idea of being in the minority. This lets the Trump administration and the Republican Party confuse the reality of being in power with the idea of having a mandate for their agenda.

Klein says President-elect Trump and the GOP are using that narrative to rewrite the history of the 2016 election:

So far, there’s been little evidence that the media, the Democrats, or the Republicans really appreciate this. The media is still trying to understand how Trump won. Democrats are still trying to understand how Clinton lost. And Republicans are thrilled that they’re now in power. Everyone is so shocked by the election’s unexpected outcome that they’ve overlooked the actual results.

There’s been a lot of talk about “normalizing” Trump, but this is more fundamental: To ignore the election results and act like the strongest possible version of Trump’s agenda was endorsed by most voters re-historicizes Trump. It makes the election into something it wasn’t, and gives Trump license to govern in a way he shouldn’t.

That’s what Team Trump’s bogus claim about voter fraud is really about, and even conservatives like Townhall’s Matt Vespa aren’t buying it.

“Confusion is an authoritarian tool”

The blasé approach to facts that dominated this election is not a case of “both sides do it.” Ignoring reality – more precisely, acting as if “reality” is an unknowable notion – favors a specific view of government, as MTV’s Brian Phillips explains:

The sensational headline that’s been thrown at Facebook’s misinformation problem asks whether fake news cost Hillary Clinton the presidency. But you don’t have to believe Facebook got Trump elected to be a little chilled by its current estrangement from fact. One of the conditions of democratic resistance is having an accurate picture of what to resist. Confusion is an authoritarian tool; life under a strongman means not simply being lied to but being beset by contradiction and uncertainty until the line between truth and falsehood blurs and a kind of exhaustion settles over questions of fact. Politically speaking, precision is freedom. It’s telling, in that regard, that Trump supporters, the voters most furiously suspicious of journalism, also proved to be the most receptive audience for fictions that looked journalism-like. Authoritarianism doesn’t really want to convince its supporters that their fantasies are true, because truth claims are subject to verification, and thus to the possible discrediting of authority. Authoritarianism wants to convince its supporters that nothing is true, that the whole machinery of truth is an intolerable imposition on their psyches, and thus that they might as well give free rein to their fantasies.

Small wonder, then, conservatives have been howling about the Washington Post and New York Times stories that spotlight “fake news,” warning of censorship and writing as if poll-based stories that differed from the election results were the real “fake news.” Today’s conservatives need to legitimize fake news, lest people wake up to the bullshit they’re being fed.

That’s why I started with the AP’s decision to explicitly label the alt-right’s white supremacy as white supremacy. It seems like a small thing, but any win for Truth is important.

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Image Credit: RationalWiki

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Good day and good nuts