More progress on the “M”-word

Robert Bertsche, a prominent First Amendment lawyer in Boston, passes along the latest news from the AP Stylebook Online (yes, I’m too cheap to subscribe):

dwarf The preferred term for people with a medical or genetic condition resulting in short stature. Plural is dwarfs.

midget Considered offensive when used to describe a person of short stature. Dwarf is the preferred term for people with that medical or genetic condition.

My 2004 edition of the AP Stylebook does not contain an entry for either word. Clearly the dwarfism community is making progress in its efforts to educate the public about the “M”-word.

In 2009, the New York Times’ then-public editor, Clark Hoyt, wrote that the Times had concluded the “M”-word was offensive.

I discuss the rise and fall of the “M”-word in Chapter Seven of my book on dwarfism, “Little People.”

The New York Times and the T-word

Peter King

The New York Times has a great story today on U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who is presiding over repugnant hearings into the loyalty of Muslim-Americans. Reporter Scott Shane reminds us that King made his reputation as a staunch supporter of the Irish Republican Army, which for years fought for independence from Britain in attacks that included the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians.

Yet I was struck by Shane’s lede, which frankly describes the IRA as “a terror group.” I don’t have any quarrel with that. But I was surprised, given the Times’ well-known squeamishness over using the T-word to describe Islamist organizations such as Hamas, which has engaged in suicide bombings against civilian targets in its war against Israel.

As the Times’ then-public editor, Clark Hoyt, wrote in 2008, “To the consternation of many, The Times does not call Hamas a terrorist organization, though it sponsors acts of terror against Israel.” It’s a policy that has put the Times in an awkward position previously, as in 2010, when the paper reported on criticism of Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, for failing to label Hamas a terrorist group.

The United States, Canada, Israel, Japan and the European Union have all classified Hamas as a terrorist organization.

King’s response to being called out as a hypocrite is truly rancid, as he reveals that he couldn’t care less about the lives of British civilians who were killed in IRA attacks. “I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel,” he tells the Times. “The fact is, the IRA never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States.”

And in the 1980s, King had this to say: “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it.”

Shane attempts to make comparisons between the IRA and Al Qaeda, and concludes — correctly — that Al Qaeda is considerably worse. But the parallels between the IRA and Hamas seem pretty obvious.

The IRA engaged in terrorist attacks, but gradually moved toward a renunciation of such attacks as it uneasily groped its way toward a peace settlement with Britain and participation in government.

Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, may or may not be capable of moving toward a peace settlement with Israel. But certainly it was unclear at a similar stage as to whether the IRA was capable of making such a transition.

It’s pretty simple. Either the IRA and Hamas are/were terrorist organizations, or neither is. I hope public editor Arthur Brisbane will explain why it’s all right for the Times to call the IRA a “terror group” when it refuses to do the same with respect to Hamas.

Last call for Clark Hoyt

New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt signed off Sunday after three years as head of the paper’s internal-affairs division.

I thought he generally did a good job. Though he was less stylish and controversial than the first public editor, Daniel Okrent, he was always serious and thoughtful. He also re-established the importance of the job after his predecessor, Byron Calame, let it slide toward irrelevance.

Hoyt points to the Times’ shameful, unsupported 2008 report that then-presidential candidate John McCain may have had an affair with a lobbyist some years earlier as his “disagreement of greatest consequence” with executive editor Bill Keller. I would also point to it as his most significant contribution.

Hoyt’s departure also gives me an opportunity to link again to this fine profile by David McKay Wilson, a classmate of mine at Northeastern during the 1970s.

Hoyt eschews the “holier-than-thou approach”

Clark Hoyt

New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt isn’t as flashy as Dan Okrent, the first person to hold that job. But to my mind he’s been a solid in-house critic of Times journalism, and a considerable improvement over his plodding predecessor, Byron Calame.

So I enjoyed this profile of Hoyt that appeared in an alumni publication, Columbia College Today, written by David McKay Wilson, a Northeastern classmate of mine in the 1970s. Hoyt explains his philosophy thusly:

I want to talk about how something happened so we could learn from it, instead of wagging a finger and taking a holier-than-thou approach. You also have to make sure you talk about the work, not the person. The New York Times is a great newspaper and it produces great journalism every day, under very trying circumstances. In certain cases, it doesn’t live up to those standards.

The most recent case, of course, is the paper’s botched reporting on Connecticut Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal’s exaggerations regarding his military service. Hoyt, admirably, dove right in — too early, as it turned out. Now that the story is fading away, I hope he’ll take another, more considered look.