Spinal Injury or Broken Neck?
It matters what words reporters use.
Charlie Rose of CBS This Morning has been the only news person I’ve heard use the words “Broken Neck” to refer to the injuries received by Freddie Gray. In case you don’t know, Gray was arrested by Baltimore police a few weeks ago for a misdemeanor. But by the time witnesses saw him being moved to a police vehicle, he was being dragged. His body was rigid and he was screaming in obvious pain.
Police said they failed to summon medical help and they failed to buckle him in with seat belts as they transported him. Hearing that, I’m not sure if they were saying the unrestrained ride caused his injuries and they then failed to call for medical help, or he sustained injuries during the arrest and their failure to buckle him down before the ride aggravated those injuries for which they failed to call medical help.
Regardless, he died in a hospital shortly there after from what the media tended to describe as everything from a neck injury to a spinal injury to a partially severed spine.
It also matters why reporters use the words they use, which makes this is a good place to talk about sanitizing language and what I consider a most egregious use. “Sever” is a French word derived from an older Latin word which means to “remove by or as if by cutting.” Unless police tried to cut Mr. Gray’s head off with some sort of blade, his spine was not severed. But sever sounds a lot softer than saying his neck was broken. Police breaking necks sort of puts them in the category of Family Guy or Robot Chicken episodes, which doesn’t do a lot for public relations.
If making people feel better is the point for media, why don’t we call school shootings “secondary educational institution incursions” or call plane crashes “compromised airfoil equipment incidents?”
Do some media not want to inflame passions in the streets? Do they not want to the call out those “bad apples” who admittedly don’t follow procedure, until a final report is issued? Do they not want to cause more pain and suffering to friends and family of victims?
Or are some truths just too truthful?
It would be nice if our designated media wordsmiths actually used the right ones. Thank you Mr. Rose.