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Making Sense of the Media: A Shutdown But Not A Showdown?

Oct 4, 2013

Credit commerce.gov

As you've listened to or watched or read coverage of the government shutdown, how many times have you heard the situation in Washington referred to as a standoff, or an impasse or a stalemate?

Well, there's no doubt about it being a shutdown.

But Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project takes issue with the use of words like standoff, or impasse or stalemate.

"Journalism has an obligation to accurately describe what's happening," McBride said. "And when you call it a showdown or a stalemate or an impasse or gridlock or deadlock or a stare down... none of those are accurate. They imply mutual responsibility. They imply that two sides simply couldn't come together on an agreement."

McBride said that is not what shut the government down.

"There is a process for passing an appropriations budget," explained McBride. "A small group of Republicans in the House said we won't pass this appropriations budget unless we are also allowed to delay or defund Obamacare. So they are acting outside of that process. They're changing the rules of the game. So that's not mutual responsibility."

But, McBride said, accurately describing the situation is not taking sides.

McBride said, "you can have a conversation about whether its reasonable for one group of people to bring the entire government to a halt because they are so opposed to a certain policy.  And that's a different conversation to have. But to deny the fact that that's what has happened is to obscure the truth."