Some surprising changes arrived in the Associated Press Stylebook online.
Politico’s Dylan Byers reported Monday that the online Stylebook now says that "-phobia," "an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness," should not be used "in political or social contexts," including "homophobia" and "Islamophobia." AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told Politico, ""We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing." But have they passed this neutrality test before?
A quick Nexis search found 199 AP articles using "homophobia" (or close variants like "homophobe" or "homophobic") over the last two years. There were another 62 articles that used "Islamophobia" or its variants.
The stylebook also now calls "ethnic cleansing" a "euphemism," and says the AP "does not use 'ethnic cleansing' on its own. It must be enclosed in quotes, attributed and explained."
"Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for pretty violent activities, a phobia is a psychiatric or medical term for a severe mental disorder. Those terms have been used quite a bit in the past, and we don't feel that's quite accurate," Minthorn explained. .
"When you break down 'ethnic cleansing,' it's a cover for terrible violent activities. It's a term we certainly don't want to propgate," Minthorn continued. "Homophobia especially -- it's just off the mark. It's ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don't have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case."
Trudy Ring of the gay magazine The Advocate found anger at AP's restraint:
George Weinberg, the psychologist who coined the word “homophobia” in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual, said he disagreed with the AP’s decision. When Weinberg came up with the term, “it made all the difference to city councils and other people I spoke to,” he told journalist Andy Humm, who shared the quote with The Advocate and other media.
“It encapsulates a whole point of view and of feeling. It was a hard-won word, as you can imagine. It even brought me some death threats. Is homophobia always based on fear? I thought so and still think so. Maybe envy in some cases. But that’s a psychological question. Is every snarling dog afraid? Probably yes. But here it shouldn’t matter. We have no other word for what we’re talking about, and this one is well established.
John Aravosis at Americablog is also not amused:
Of course, what the AP is afraid of is picking sides. Using the word “homophobia” is to suggest that there isn’t a rational basis for thinking that the marriage of gay couples will somehow make hetero marriages fall apart. And the word “Islamophobia” suggests that Republicans who are afraid that the greatest threat to Topeka is the Sharia aren’t bat-s crazy, when they actually are.