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updated: 6/28/2012 2:44 PM

Talk with the Editor: Is 'Obamacare' a label or a pejorative?

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  • Holding a sign saying "We Love ObamaCare" supporters of health care reform rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington in March.

    Holding a sign saying "We Love ObamaCare" supporters of health care reform rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington in March.
    Associated Press


So now, the long-awaited Supreme Court ruling finally announced, the talking heads can have at it on Obamacare. Clearly, Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow will be entertaining. The folks at CNN, meanwhile, can try to figure out how they got it wrong.

Meanwhile, I use the expression "Obamacare" with deliberate forethought.

There was a time when I wouldn't have used the expression in this column unless I was quoting someone like Congressman Joe Walsh.

We have had a rule -- and despite my variance from it in this instance, still do, at least at the moment -- forbidding the use of "Obamacare" to describe the health care act in our news stories. Not that it didn't slip into our coverage carelessly a time or two. But mainly, we have restricted it to quotations.

Early on, Republican critics, like Walsh, used the expression with some political venom. It didn't describe the act as much as it described the view they wanted to propagate of an unpopular measure shoved down the country's throat against its will.

That was all well and good for politicians. But it's our job to present the news with balance and to strive to eliminate language that colors that balance. (I know, we're imperfect at this, and there are many issues where our language choice can be debated. I'll give you that.)

But then, Obama himself started using the expression. He viewed it as the cornerstone of his administration's accomplishments and seemed only too happy to link his name to it for both the political and legacy value.

Well, then what? We didn't want to get involved in that game either.

So we've continued with our ban on using the expression as a description of the health care act.

But I'm wondering if that's necessary anymore. The expression has become such an established part of the country's lexicon that I suspect it's lost all of its original pejorative power. You hear it at the water cooler, in casual conversation.

People just use it as shorthand, simply as a label for the legislation. For the most part, there doesn't seem to be any political connotation at all anymore.

Let me know what you think? Do we still need to be careful with our use of the expression in news stories? Did we ever need to be careful about it? And beyond all of that, how evenhanded and how thorough do you think the news media has been with the health care debate? What lessons are there for those of us at the Daily Herald to learn from the news media performance on this issue?

Thanks for your comments, and have a good weekend. Stay cool and stay hydrated.

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