On Feb. 12, Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the nation’s sheriffs at a National Sheriffs Winter Conference in Washington, calling them a “critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.” As one might imagine, immediate backlash from groups such as the NAACP ensued and accused Sessions of racist rhetoric. Many news outlets such as CNN and NBC were quick to report this unusual term by saying this wasn’t in the prepared remarks. When I saw this, I also thought “Wow, that’s racist.” However, as it turns out, this term is used all the time in legal cases. Another day, another distraction from what the Trump administration is doing behind the scenes.
I understand some media outlets’ obsession with wanting to find the one piece of news that will cause a huge enough scandal in the Trump administration for it to crumble to the ground. After all, journalism has now become about getting the information out first. But going so far as to take one phrase from Sessions’ speech that was impromptu and 100 percent legal is a bit much. Sure, it invoked strong reactions from readers and even groups like the NAACP, but just getting reactions should not be the end goal of journalism.
As someone who lives on Twitter and Facebook, I’m constantly seeing posts from my friends saying the media should stop focusing on the latest senseless things Donald Trump says. They like to say there are worse things his cabinet members are doing in the background that aren’t being reported or being publicized as much. I’d like to think news outlets are starting to take notice of these comments since a lot of the articles I’ve been reading lately are about what goes on behind the scenes, such as corruption, scandals, embezzlements, harassment and assault.
But the Sessions uproar shows how that can be taken too far. When you don’t even research the phrase “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement” and don’t bother to explain it just because you think it’s self-explanatory and it wasn’t in the prepared remarks, it’s a problem.
One of the main points that’s repeated over and over in my journalism classes is that if you use jargon or a term unfamiliar to your audience, you need to define it. The lack of definition for “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement” in the initial articles breaks that rule, leading people to come up with their own conclusions based on something that might not be true. That is a very dangerous gamble.
Yes, Sessions has fought against legislation dealing with the advancement of civil rights. Maybe the phrase he used needs to be altered to reflect current times, sure. But for now, it’s a valid legal term and not only should news outlets realize that, but they should educate their audience on it too, since it’s not common knowledge. The Trump administration might have its issues that aren’t being publicized and they need to be, but Sessions knowing law terms that even first-year law students know is not one of them.
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