Two of America’s largest mainstream media outlets have decided reporters should cut down on the use of the term “Obamacare,” fearing it’s gotten too negative of a connotation.
Tom Kent, the deputy managing editor and standards editor of The Associated Press who is responsible for “accuracy and balance” across the stories carried on AP’s newswire, wrote a column Tuesday telling reporters to back off using the term “Obamacare” when referring to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“‘Obamacare’ was coined by opponents of the law and is still used by them in a derogatory manner,” Kent argued. “It’s true that the White House, and even Obama himself, have used the term on occasion. But the administration hasn’t totally embraced ‘Obamacare’ and still uses the Affordable Care Act much of the time. We’re sticking with our previous approach to ‘Obamacare’: AP writers should use it in quotes, or in formulations like ‘the law, sometimes known as Obamacare.’”
At at NPR, Stuart Seidel, managing editor for standards and practices, announced in a memo ruling earlier this week that reporters should cut back on use of the term.
“‘Obamacare’ seems to be straddling somewhere between being a politically-charged term and an accepted part of the vernacular. And it seems to be on our air and in our copy a great deal,” Seidel said. “[W]ord choices do leave an impression. Please avoid overusing ‘Obamacare.’
“On first reference, it’s best to refer to the ‘Affordable Care Act’ or ‘the health care law,’” he continued. “On later references, feel free to use ‘Obamacare,’ but mix it up with other ways to refer to the law.”
Seidel’s recent ruling reflects a bit of a backtrack from only last month, when he was more accepting of the term “Obamacare.”
On Sept. 6, NPR Ombudsman Edward Shumacher-Matos quoted Seidel’s thoughts at the time from a letter the two exchanged: “Republicans coined the term ‘Obamacare’ during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, seemingly as a means to generate opposition to the president’s health care initiative. During that time, NPR avoided using the term ‘Obamacare.’
“Since passage of the legislation and its enactment into law, the president has said he rather likes the term “Obamacare” and it has gradually come into the vernacular as a shorthand for referring to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Seidel reportedly wrote. “I’m confident that NPR listeners and readers understand that whatever its origins, the term ‘Obamacare’ has lost its pedigree as a politically charged term.”
Seidel’s more recent ruling, however, suggests he’s rethinking how much “charge” is in the term “Obamacare.”
The AP, to be fair, is also recognizing that whatever connotation “Obamacare” may hold for the health-care law, the original term “Affordable Care Act” is a clever piece of language manipulation.
“The Affordable Care Act is the official name of the law,” Kent wrote. “However, its very name is promotional; opponents believe it will not be affordable for individuals or the country. Also, polling indicates that not all Americans know the law by this name. AP writers can use the term when necessary to refer to the law, but should do so sparingly.
“Bottom line,” Kent ruled, “terms like ‘the nation’s new health care law’ are preferred.”