There's been much discussion over the past few days about "banned words" in the wake of reports by the Washington Post and other media outlets that multiple agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), have been told by Trump administration officials that they cannot use certain words and phrases in agency documents.
The words purportedly banned for used in official agency reports being prepared for the 2019 budget were: entitlement, diversity, vulnerable, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based. Several sources at HHS also told the Post that they'd been told to use "ObamaCare" as opposed to the "Affordable Care Act" and to refer to "marketplaces" where people purchase health insurance as "exchanges."
"The assertion that HHS has 'banned words' is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process," said HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd to The Hill.
So, in conclusion, we have reports arising from multiple sources in several federal agencies to multiple media outlets saying they'd been given instruction as to what words they could and couldn't use in government documents, followed by a denial from an official spokesperson that any of it ever happened.
This semantic kerfluffle should serve to remind us that whoever controls language controls the message. George Orwell famously illustrated this in his novel 1984, set in a dystopian then-future world, wherein citizens of Oceania were constantly exposed by their government to such slogans as "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and "Ignorance is Strength." Thirty-three years after Orwell's future tome, there is little doubt that a battle is raging in this country to control the message.
It seems quaint to think that until as recently as 1987, licensed broadcasters in the U.S. were required to observe something called the Fairness Doctrine, a policy of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required broadcast license holders to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner that was — in the FCC's view — honest and equitable. It was imperfect in its execution, but its intention was to guarantee that U.S. citizens would be able to rely on their broadcast media to present a fair and balanced picture of the news of the day. ("Fair and balanced"? I've heard that somewhere.)
National news networks, and even local news and affairs programs, were constrained from the kind of partisan cheerleading that passes for news and analysis these days. Broadcasters were required by law to grant equal time to opposing views. Crazy, right?
Nowadays, if you want both sides of an issue, you have to watch and listen to several news outlets. MSNBC is reliably left of center; CNN is slightly left, but usually makes an attempt to present both sides; Rupert Murdoch's Fox News has basically disintegrated into state media, wholly in service to the Trump/GOP agenda — even going so far as to suggest this week that the FBI was staging a "coup" by pursuing its investigation into the Trump campaign's possible Russian connections.
What's next? Alex Jones as Sean Hannity's new sidekick? I'm still trying to figure out how being "conservative" has come to mean siding with our arch-enemy, Russia, against our own U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This is weird and dangerous turf.
The late, great comedian George Carlin had a blistering routine about the "seven words you can't say on television." I urge you to dial it up on your local YouTube and watch it. It's hilarious and scary good. But again, "forbidden words." How quaint. One night's channel surfing will make it clear that there are no words that can't be spoken on your television.
Oh, sure, Wolf Blitzer still can't just pop off and rhetorically ask, "How the f**k can Kellyanne Conway say that with a straight face?" (Though that would be refreshing.) According to the FCC, there are still "forbidden words" for licensed broadcasters. But there are no forbidden ideas; no forbidden lies; no FCC policy to monitor fairness or equity or balance. It's the wild west; every viewer for themselves.
Choose what's fake. Choose what's real. Choose your truth. Ignorance is not strength.