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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 02:17 PM ET, 08/13/2012

AP political cliches: Where’s ‘narrative’?

Nothing like a nice set of copy rules to captivate the wonkojournalist: AP today released its “U.S. Elections Style Guide,” which clarifies, among other things, that “front-runner" is to be hyphenated, “first lady” is a lowercase thing because it’s not an official title and “fair shot” and “fair share” are political terms of President Obama’s and should appear in quotations upon first reference.

Even more fun is the section where AP tells you what to avoid in your political stories: cliches, that is, like the “war chest,” among the more exhausted terms in American political history. AP says to use instead “campaign bank account or stockpile of money.” Or how about just plain ”money”? “Hat in the ring” — forget it. Also verboten is “barnstormed,” which AP says should be written as Candidate X “traveled across a state campaigning or campaigned across XYZ.” That seems a little picky. “Barnstorm” isn’t the most egregious cliche around.

“Narrative” is! As in this recent Roll Call headline: “Mitt Romney Weaknesses Play Into Democrats’ National Narrative.”A paragraph from that piece:

The Senate race in Wisconsin is one of many Congressional races across the country where the national Democrats’ portrayal of Romney neatly coincides with Democratic Congressional candidates’ framing of their wealthy Republican opponents. Democratic strategists said that the national narrative about Romney reinforces the message that Republicans downballot also are out of touch, even if their campaigns are not explicitly drawing the connection to Romney.

A line from a recent piece in the Guardian shows similarly lazy use of the term: “But despite his efforts to change the political narrative, issues of personal tax continued to dog the Republican this weekend.”

Oh, but that’s not nearly as bad as the ultimate in political clicheology — that is, when you use some form of the verb “to feed” within sniffing distance of “narrative,” a sickening combo captured by this piece in the Chicago Tribune:

Obama’s campaign has questioned whether Romney used tax shelters to lower his tax rate far below what most Americans pay, a claim that feeds Democrats’ narrative that Romney is out of touch with middle-class people.

Edit as follows:

Obama’s campaign has questioned whether Romney used tax shelters to lower his tax rate far below what most Americans pay, an attack designed to depict Romney as out of touch with middle-class people.

Feed your pets and your children, not narratives. We’re talking here about the most unpardonable, grievous and gross deployment of writerly commonism, a shelter for commentators who don’t know what they’re talking about. And one that — can you believe it? — doesn’t even make the AP guide’s list of terms to avoid. How could that be, AP? “I guess the list could go on, eh?” replies spokesman Paul Colford.

By  |  02:17 PM ET, 08/13/2012

Tags:  associated press, style guide, copy rules, narrative, roll call, guardian, chicago tribune

 
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