Read Cynthia Gorney!

Over the last several days, a few posts have touched upon the present controversy over the proposed mosque/Islamic center/abandoned Burlington Coat Factory in Lower Manhattan. And we’ve gotten a little queasy over how to characterize the project and the fight in general. “Ground Zero Mosque” is both inflammatory and inaccurate, but dubbing it “Park51,” as some have taken to calling it, smacks of namby-pamby liberal euphemizing, like constantly using the word “choice” when you mean “abortion.” And “the panoply of Islamic and recreational activities clustered in a building two blocks from the old World Trade Center site” just won’t fit in a headline. Mostly, we’re just impressed by how the right wing thought up the catch-phrase “Ground Zero Mosque”, circulated it among ideological blogs and news web sites for months before the controversy hit the big time, and made it the default and almost indispensable shorthand for the whole kerfuffle. Years ago, UC Berkeley journalism professor Cynthia Gorney wrote a remarkable story about how right-wing activists did the same thing in the abortion debate, by coining the term “partial birth abortion” when no such phrase existed in medical literature, bandied it among themselves until it became the reflexive brand name for the procedure, and ultimately established it as the term of art in the media and congressional legislation. It’s a fascinating study of how political language is invented, and everyone should read it right here.


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