English teachers council gives Glenn Beck the 'Doublespeak Award'

Glenn Beck was just named the 2009 winner of an award he would probably rather not have received (or maybe he would, under the principle that all publicity is good publicity): The “Doublespeak Award,” given annually by the National Council of Teachers of English.

The nonprofit group, which promotes literacy and the language arts, gives the award “to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing & self-centered.”

Beck was named the 2009 winner at the council’s annual convention over the weekend in Philadelphia. Here is the citation, along with some past winners. You can find a complete list of winners here.

Glenn Beck

Beck, a popular radio and television commentator who moved from CNN to Fox News, and who became a prominent critic of liberalism and the Obama administration this year, wrote two New York Times bestselling books in 2009: "Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine" and "Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government."

Beck has also been pushing his “9-12 Project,” named for the nine principles and 12 values he says embody the spirit of the American people on the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

That spirit, if we are to believe Beck’s own words, is pure doublespeak. When he moved to Fox this year, Beck attacked health care reform by repeatedly telling his audience, “You’re about to lose the best health care system in the world.” But in 2008, after experiencing problems during a routine surgical procedure, Beck vehemently complained to his CNN audience that the American health care system had gone “horribly awry.”

He told viewers it was a “nightmare” system that doesn’t care about “average working stiffs” and tries to “shove the patients out the door as fast as they can.” Beck concluded one of several diatribes against American doctors and hospitals with this shocker: “Getting well in this country actually will almost kill you”—a phrase that was recently echoed in Alan Grayson’s critique of the two-part Republican health care plan: “Don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.”

Beck describes his 9-12 project with these words: “We weren’t told how to behave that day after 9/11, we just knew. It was right, it was the opposite of what we feel today. Are you ready to be the person you were that day after 9/11, on 9/12?” The 12 values which embody the spirit of the American people on the day after 9/11 include reverence, charity, personal responsibility and gratitude, and one of his nine principles is, “It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.”

While doublespeak is not one of Beck’s explicit values, this 2005 radio comment on the aftermath of 9/11 shows that along with gratitude and sharing one’s personal opinion, doublespeak may be his most important political principle: “This is horrible to say, and I wonder if I’m alone in this. You know it took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims’ families? . . . When I see a 9-11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh, shut up!’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining. And we did our best for them.”

Beck had some serious competition for this year’s Doublespeak Award: Sarah Palin, Rod Blagojevich, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For always doing his best for the rest of us, for comparing health care for children and caps on executive salaries with fascism and the Nazis’ final solution, the NCTE Public Language Award Committee proudly presents Glenn Beck with its annual Doublespeak Award.

Term: Aspirational Goal

In 2008, this term was used in relation to two issues of global import: the Iraq war and climate change. George W. Bush has used the term "aspirational goal" in place of setting a deadline for withdrawal of troops in Iraq. Likewise, Bush, members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and others have set "aspirational goals" for reducing carbon emissions and slowing global warming.

As textbook Doublespeak, "aspirational goal" is both a tautology and a paradox. Aspirations and goals are the same thing; and yet when the terms are combined, the effect is to undermine them both, producing a phrase that means, in effect, “a goal to which one does not aspire all that much.” The goal of “aspirational goal,” clearly, is to disguise inaction and thwart legitimate aspirations.

The Tobacco Industry

For its media blitzes portraying tobacco companies as the benefactors of children, abused women, and disaster victims-“abusing language in pursuit of their right to sell a deadly drug.”

The World Health Organization’s recent international condemnation of tobacco companies, which claimed the companies are secretly trying to counter attempts to reduce smoking and warned that tobacco companies might attempt to undermine work on a new global anti-smoking accord, also contributed to the industry’s winning this award.

Tobacco companies’ attempts to make their legally mandated participation in smoking-cessation programs appear virtuous make the industry a still more deserving recipient of the award, according to the selection committee.

Joe Klein

For statements after his authorship of the novel “Primary Colors” was revealed, "at the very least compromised standards of journalism." Klein emphatically denied he was the author to CBS, one of his employers, and to The New York Times. He later explained in Newsweek that he chose the ethics of book publishing over the ethics of journalism. In the July 29 issue, Klein refers to his statements as "little white lies" and chides his critics for "chattering and battering and pontificating on the air about what I did."

"No committee member faulted Klein the novelist," NCTE Committee on Public Doublespeak Chair Keith Gilyard said, "but Klein the journalist." Noting that Klein criticized the Clintons for "lawyering, fudging, misdirection, obfuscation, and generally slouchy behavior in response to difficult questions" in a January 22, 1996, article in Newsweek, Gilyard said, "Klein used loaded language to attack others for the same type of behavior that he practices. As one of the Doublespeak Committee members put it, Klein is guilty of ‘utter hypocrisy.’"

The Exxon Corporation

For calling some 35 miles of Alaskan beaches "environmentally clean" and "environmentally stabilized." In his announcement speech, Doublespeak Committee Chair William Lutz noted that various major news media subsequently reported the visible presence of oil along the coast in the area where the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground March 24, 1989.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (May 26) reported that beaches declared by Exxon to be clean or stabilized were still covered with oil. . . . Wipe any stone and come away with a handful of oil. Newsweek (Sept. 18) reported that in the spill area "the rocks were gritty, sticky, and dark brown. . . ." Lutz noted Exxon spokespersons’ gradual shift from calling beaches "clean" to calling them "treated" [so that] "the natural inhabitants can live there without harm."

Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Morton Thiokol, and Rockwell International

For comments made following the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, among them: NASA official on whether shuttle performance had improved: "I think our performance in terms of the orbital performance, we knew more about the envelope we were operating under, and we have been pretty accurately staying in that. . . . I think we have been able to characterize the performance more as a function of our launch experience as opposed to it improving as a function of time."

NASA also described the shuttle explosion as "an anomaly," and the bodies of the astronauts as"recovered components," and the astronauts’ coffins as "crew transfer containers." Morton Thiokol engineer on effect of cold weather: "I made the comment that lower temperatures are in the direction of badness for both O-rings, because it slows down the timing function."

Rockwell executive on ice formation on the launch platform: "I felt that by telling them we did not have a sufficient database and could not analyze the trajectory of the ice, I felt he understood that Rockwell was not giving a positive indication we were for the launch."

U.S. State Department

For announcing that it will no longer use the word "killing" in official reports on the status of human rights in other countries, but will replace "killing" with the phrase "unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of life." Also (after the U.S. invasion of Grenada) for stating that U.S. and Caribbean occupation forces were not arresting Grenadians and others suspected of opposing the invasion. "We are detaining people," a State Department official said. "They should be described as detainees."

Yasir Arafat, PLO Leader

In answer to a charge that the PLO wanted to destroy Israel, he was quoted as saying, "They are wrong. We do not want to destroy any people. It is precisely because we have been advocating coexistence that we have shed so much blood."

Colonel David H. E. Opfer, USAF Press Officer in Cambodia

After a U.S. bombing raid, he told some reporters: "You always write it’s bombing, bombing, bombing. It’s not bombing! It’s air support!"

For more on education, go to The Post's education site.

By Valerie Strauss  |  November 23, 2009; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Accountability  | Tags: Doublespeak Award, NCTE Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Previous: Willingham: Six practical reasons arts education is more than a luxury
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Well, you can't say they hold back punches against anyone.

Posted by: EricS2 | November 23, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Quite simply, duplicitous journalism.
The "non profit"...
To the obstuse (typical) reader that connotates, falsely, objective.
A real journalist (one that reports with objectivity) would have counted the number of awards over the past 20 plus years and revealed that an OVERWHELMING majority have been given to Republicans. Reporting that way, would give the reader insight into the now obvious partisanship and ideological leanings of the this "non profit."
This type of reporting really devalues the reputation of any otherwise pretty solid newspaper.

Posted by: jgubera | November 23, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

It's a liberal group giving him an "award" that they've given to various conservative targets for twenty-some years. This is about politics, not language, and surely Beck will make hay with it.

Posted by: tomtildrum | November 23, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

"...gives the award “to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing & self-centered.”

OBAMA, who 90% of the teachers WORSHIP should have one this one hands down.

Posted by: notindc1 | November 29, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Pray tell, how well have the english teachers in this country been? I'm sick of their failures. Go worship your union, you POS's.

Posted by: Kansasgirl | November 29, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Glenn Beck has been properly recognized by the National Council of Teachers of English. He is an undereducated simpleton.

Kansasgirl should thank HER teachers although it may take a few days before she is able to comprehend the reason.

I really must wonder just who is reading the Washington Post these days.

Posted by: CynLynn | November 30, 2009 5:23 AM | Report abuse

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