When read together, Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky and English author George Orwell explain American journalism.
More than a century ago, Dostoevsky observed that "man could get used to anything." Decades ago, Orwell explained how political jargon gives a "defense of the indefensible." And just days ago, Politico noted that more mothers were "choosing to reduce triplets down to twins."
Rather than admit that the only way to turn triplets into twins is to kill a baby, Politico hid behind a euphemism. And rather than react in horror at the death of a child, they printed a splashy graphic to explain "the decline of triplets" as if the procedure was the equivalent of filling a dental cavity. In short, they casually whitewashed slaughter and sadly that's not uncommon.
While the number of triplets has been declining since 2003, the use of sterilized, obscuring language has been rising.
The New York Times published a long expose on the emerging phenomenon in 2011, explaining how expecting mothers sheared triplets into twins and cut twins into "singletons." The story chronicles their reasons for tailoring a family. Many women wanted a smaller pregnancy because more kids mean more emotional, financial, and scheduling problems. What's not described is the procedure for disposing of one or more siblings.
Journalists normally flinch at the details. They don't write about how the doctor uses ultra-sound to maneuver the unborn baby into position. They don't describe how a syringe of toxic potassium chloride is inserted in the mother's belly. And they don't report how that long needle is stabbed into the child's little heart until it stops beating. Politico just calls it a "reduction."
Real horror goes unnoticed when imprecise language transforms a callous abortion into an unremarkable "reduction." The eyes of the reader gloss over in the same way they scan blindly, for instance, over the carpet bombing of some far-away Syrian village that's been described as "pacification."
In short, the public can become accustomed to the most revolting of horrors if they are pre-packaged correctly. Dostoevsky and Orwell were right all along.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.