Wednesday saw The Washington Post debut a new slogan, and boy is it dramatic.
Democracy Dies in Darkness
Are you scared? Unnerved? Enticed? Contemplative? All of the above? I can’t speak to what the desired intent of this new slogan was, but it reeks of melodrama and seems to want to instill a sense of foreboding and dread in the paper’s readers. If we break down the grammar of the phrase, we can see that all of this was by design.
What I take fault in is the choice to use DIES instead of DYING. Technically, dies is the present active tense of die. Using “dies” implies that the death of Democracy is actively happening, but it also does not leave room for the implication that it can be stopped. Were they to have used “dying,” the present progressive tense of die, it at least implies that the death of Democracy has not finished — it is active, but still ongoing, implying that it could be stopped. Moreover on that, the present progressive requires an auxiliary verb — in this case “is” or “was” would suffice. The former would, again, imply that democracy could be saved, while the latter would imply that it had been saved.
Grammar aside, there is little that’s subjective about the new slogan. It very definitively makes the statement, given how verb tense is used in newspaper headlines, that Democracy has expired. The choice of phrasing seems rather consciously divisive to me. It also seems needlessly melodramatic.
To their credit, though, WaPo did — somewhat — give an explanation of the new slogan. A spokeswoman, Kris Coratti, gave the following, semi-confusing statement on the topic:
This is actually something we’ve said internally for a long time in speaking about our mission. We thought it would be a good, concise value statement that conveys who we are to the many millions of readers who have come to us for the first time over the last year. We started with our newest readers on Snapchat, and plan to roll it out on our other platforms in the coming weeks.
I’m confused as to how this speaks to their mission. Also, how anyone thought this was a good “value statement” that “conveys who [they] are.”
In comparison, the most famous newspaper slogan is, of course, attributed to The New York Times: “All the news that’s fit to print.” In 1897, then-editor Adolph S. Ochs came up with the adage, which is still on the masthead to this day, as a declaration of the newspaper’s intention to report the news impartially. Notice how easy and how not subjective the verb usage is in this slogan. The Washington Post‘s new slogan undermines the paper’s credibility as a result.
Much has been made of President Trump’s war against the liberal media. Whether you agree with his sentiments or not, it would seem that WaPo is inadvertently playing into his hand with this slogan. At his rally in Melbourne, Florida last week, POTUS said “fake news tell us … what to believe.” This slogan, with it’s carefully chosen phrasing and voicing, intends to do just that. While the NYT slogan speaks to its paper’s intent, the new WaPo slogan is trying to speak to the fears of its readers. Its goal is less informative and more visceral. It wants an emotional response. It wants to further feelings of doubt and uncertainty. It wants to dishearten and shock it’s reader. And it is giving more ammo to those who would say that the “liberal media” are becoming unhinged.
The Washington Post is an incredible periodical, and this lapse in editorial judgement won’t keep me from continuing to admire their work and their voice in the journalistic community. It does, however, give me pause. Right now, more than ever, it is important for the journalistic community to keep themselves in check, to bring themselves out of that darkness, considering the incredible amount of scrutiny we are under. Acting out, creating melodramatic, emotionally-charged slogans, and publicly reveling in the downfall of the opposition are not in keeping with the unspoken oath we made as journalists to be impartial on that which we report, no matter how justified you think those actions are — or how good it feels to do so.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.