Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What constitutes a "gaffe" in politics?

Google the word "gaffe" and you get a bunch of definitions ranging from "an unintentional remark causing embarrassment" to "a clumsy social error" to a "faux pas." (Scroll down a little and you'll see something called the "Joe Biden gaffe-o-meter.")

During this political season, the word is being tossed around with regularity, for even the slightest missteps by any candidate.  Whether something is a gaffe or not is open to interpretation.

Examples: Some journalists saw Mitt Romney's comments about the London Olympics as a huge gaffe while others thought it was no big deal. Others saw President Obama's quote on Egypt not being an ally of the United States as a major gaffe, while others say it wasn't.

So who decides? If you're doing the deciding, you might be showing bias unintentionally.

Best to avoid the word gaffe altogether. When you say one candidate or another has committed a gaffe, you're telling viewers that the candidate said something stupid. That's your opinion, and might be that of many others, but it's up to the viewers to decide. Labeling sound bites as "controversial" or "raising eyebrows" injects opinion into the story, something I hope you're trying to avoid in this era of media bias.

Let the sound bites speak for themselves, and let the viewers decide.


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