In July, I wrote about claims of media bias regarding The Associated Press’ (Lean Left) Stylebook guidelines on transgender issues. This week, AP is experiencing renewed charges of bias after its stylebook tweeted guidance urging people to avoid using the article “the” before certain groups of people — even “the French.”
The tweet from AP Stylebook, now deleted, stated, “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated. Instead, use wording such as people with mental illnesses. And use these descriptions only when clearly relevant.”
AP’s attempt not to offend anyone didn’t go over so well, with internet users widely making fun of the guidance — aiming jokes at AP’s guidance not to say “the French.” Many Twitter users on both the left and right used the phrase “people with Frenchness” or “people experiencing Frenchness” jokingly, including those working at media outlets AllSides rates on the right, such as The Daily Caller (Right bias) and The Washington Times (Lean Right), as well as those working at outlets on the left, such as Gawker and Gizmodo (Lean Left):
Who invented the hot air balloon and the aqualung?— Mike Glenn (@mrglenn) January 27, 2023
AP editor: No, no. That term is dehumanizing. Use 'People With Frenchness' instead.
So "people with Frenchness"— Nick Short (@PoliticalShort) January 26, 2023
"People with Frenchness" https://t.co/9kyeLXbeAz— Frank J. Fleming (@IMAO_) January 26, 2023
Unclear why it's preferable to refer to French people as "people with mental illnesses," rather than just calling them "The French" https://t.co/I4ASo1WErO— Harry Khachatrian (@Harry1T6) January 26, 2023
Eurodivergent— Brandy Jensen (@BrandyLJensen) January 26, 2023
“The poor, the mentally ill, the French” https://t.co/sbjEKGsPBV— Blake Montgomery (@blakersdozen) January 26, 2023
Some, including Twitter CEO Elon Musk, laughingly questioned how “The Associated Press” is still appropriate under the new guidelines: “So then why do [sic] call yourself “The” Associated Press” Musk tweeted next to a laughing emoji.
Even the French Embassy in the U.S.’ official Twitter account jokingly responded, tweeting, "I guess this is us now…" and shared a screenshot of its account name "French Embassy U.S." being changed to “Embassy of Frenchness in the US."
In response, AP deleted the tweet and stated, “"The use of ‘the French’ in this tweet by @AP was inappropriate and has caused unintended offense. An updated tweet is upcoming." The updated tweet reads, “We deleted an earlier tweet because of an inappropriate reference to French people. We did not intend to offend. Writing French people, French citizens, etc., is good. But "the" terms for any people can sound dehumanizing and imply a monolith rather than diverse individuals.”
We deleted an earlier tweet because of an inappropriate reference to French people. We did not intend to offend.— APStylebook (@APStylebook) January 27, 2023
Writing French people, French citizens, etc., is good. But "the" terms for any people can sound dehumanizing and imply a monolith rather than diverse individuals.
Figures on the right seemed to think AP’s guidance to avoid the words “the” in front of certain groups largely reflects left-wing thought. Commentators and figures on the right such as Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Konni Burton (founder of The Texan, Lean Right), Bryan Griffin (Ron DeSantis’ press secretary), and others charged AP with being “woke.”
Some argued the guidance represented political correctness gone overboard. Rob Henderson, faculty fellow at the University of Austin, accused AP of this as well as elite bias: “Some bureaucrats get to pat themselves on the back for finding yet another way to identify the rubes from those in the know. Political correctness is a barrier to keep the working class from becoming upwardly mobile.”
While the left and right both poked fun at the tweet, the guidance also hits on a hot-button culture war issue. The right typically pushes back on attempts to make language more politically correct, arguing that such attempts often detract from people’s freedom of expression, come across as patronizing or condescending, or assign harm where none was taken or intended. The left, however, typically advocates for a heightened awareness of language, arguing language can be dehumanizing or hurtful and can benefit from alterations to mitigate potential harm. In this view, encouraging people to avoid certain terms and phrases is seen as compassionate and thoughtful of differences; in the opposite view, it’s elitist gatekeeping that pushes back against the ways in which people naturally speak, when they mean no harm.
After AP’s retraction, some pushed back on AP’s characterization of the reaction as containing “offense.” Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Paul Graham tweeted, “You wish it was offense. Actually people were laughing at you.”
The Associated Press Stylebook has been around for over 150 years. Its standards are reflected in media content across the globe. Students in journalism schools are taught to follow it, and many industry professionals treat it as a bible. But since 2018, AllSides has noted Associated Press’ news content moving toward the left, and this leftward slant is being reflected in some style guidelines, as well.
To avoid blind spots caused by media bias, read across the political spectrum. Multiple views on hot-button issues can help you to know more and think for yourself. You can read more about AllSides’ Lean Left rating for the Associated Press — and vote on what you think — here.
Julie Mastrine is the Director of Marketing and Bias Ratings at AllSides. She has a Lean Right bias.
This piece was reviewed by Daily News Editor Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left bias) and Bridging and Bias Assistant Clare Ashcraft (Center).