Unhelpful Words: -gate

06Sep08

Today’s edition of unhelpful words comes in the form of a suffix: -gate.

It’s become common practice when covering any political scandal these days to name the event with -gate at the end. But it remains unclear what this suffix does to shine any more light on the story than simply reporting it would.

For example, in “Plame gate,” there was a potentially illegal release of information, not of gathering it. “Trooper gate,” involving the recent VP Sarah Palin, deals with potentially personally motivated firing practices and though the investigation is being slowed down, no one is attempting to cover up the facts of the situation. Finally, “NAFTA gate,” with Obama, was simply a case of political posturing and a potentially shifted position. None of these seem to have any relationship to Watergate save that a politician is in hot water.

So what does adding “gate” to these situations do for our better understanding of these situations? If there’s no need for a relationship between the stories (as is apparent), is simply conveying the message that a scandal is afoot reason enough to use it? Is it simply trying to draw in viewers and readers from another time with something they’re familiar with?

In my eyes, it’s evidence of lazy journalism, with the potential to be dangerous. I think that the media should make it easier for the public to digest new and complicated information, not to convince us that we already understand a new story by giving it a name we’re familiar with. We need a public informed to the best degree possible, and using -gate for every political scandal or gaffe, like “bitter-gate,” is simply unhelpful.

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