An elaborately presented New York Times Sunday front-page story introduced the paper’s study condemning the “devil” language of Republican politicians, under the surprisingly moralistic headline “For Trump’s Backers in Congress, ‘Devil Terms’ Help Rally Voters,” brought to you by “investigative reporters” Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Steve Eder. Once again, “election deniers” are in the crosshairs — the latest in an endless series of breathless front-page pieces.
It opened by casting an Illinois Republican congresswoman as a hypocritical Christian for engaging in “seeth[ing]” social media rhetoric.
As Representative Mary Miller embarked on her first congressional campaign, she described herself in salt-of-the-earth, all-American terms: a mother, grandmother and farmer who embodied the “Midwestern values of faith, family and freedom.”
But there is another side to Ms. Miller’s wholesome image. Since entering Congress, she has routinely vilified Democrats and liberals, calling them “evil” communists beholden to China who want to “destroy” America and its culture….
Ms. Miller’s inflammatory words underscore the extent to which polarizing rhetoric is now entrenched among Republicans in the House of Representatives…according to an examination by The New York Times of partisan language over the past 10 years.
Leaving aside the suspicious specificity of the study (the reporters clearly knew what they wanted to find: mean GOP tweets), the limited human involvement in the actual language analysis makes it dubious. Under the “methodology” section the paper explained: “The analysis employed language software, Receptiviti, to tally how often the legislators used words that academic researchers had linked to antagonistic speech online.” Some words were “removed from the evaluation list” after reporters made random checks.
The analysis of tweets, Facebook ads, newsletters and congressional speeches — more than 3.7 million items in all — relied largely on natural language processing, a technique that uses software to extract information from large amounts of text….
The upturn in Republican vitriol was tied to Trump assuming office, of course. The Times didn’t totally ignore inflammatory Democratic rhetoric (though Biden bilge, like his “Jim Crow” attacks on the GOP, weren’t included in the study’s parameters).
….In the first years of the Trump presidency, Democrats on average spoke in a more outraged way than Republicans on Twitter and in constituent emails. A few Democrats, including Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, were among those lawmakers who most frequently used demonizing speech on Twitter, even into the current congressional term.
But again, the reliance on software disconnected from human judgment makes the findings untrustworthy, as the paper (barely) admitted.
Among other things, the algorithmic techniques used by The Times compared statements with one another and with examples of known incendiary language….(One complexity is that this technique cannot always distinguish between incendiary rhetoric and factual descriptions of antidemocratic behavior.)
The liberal paper has even caught religion.
“They are using what are called ‘devil terms’ — things that are so unquestionably bad that you can’t have a debate about them,” said Jennifer Mercieca, a professor at Texas A&M University who studies the history of political rhetoric.
Apparently, anti-Semitic remarks from “Squad” members like Rep. Ilhan Omar were also not tracked as part of the study. Bias by omission, anyone?
Members of “the squad,” the group of progressive Democrats that includes Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have used that angry language less frequently than most others, despite often voicing far-left views that rattle many Republicans, the analysis found.
It’s no surprise that the “objectors” turn to Fox News the most, while Democrats prefer “CNN, The Times and The Washington Post.”