“A civil war,” said Matt Lauer on the Today show on Nov. 27. NBC brass had discussed it, he told viewers, and had come to the bold and publicity-generating—if not exactly jaw-dropping—conclusion that democracy is maybe not flourishing quite the way we planned.
The other two broadcast networks, equally boldly, have not followed suit.
“It was their decision to make and their process,” said Jon Banner, the executive producer of ABC’s World News. “We constantly discuss editorial matters here—all the time, every day. How that decis ion got made there I have no idea, nor do I want to guess.”
“To be honest with you, I think it’s a political statement, not a news judgment,” said Rome Hartman, the executive producer of the CBS Evening News. “We deal with the events of the day, and we decide the best way to describe those events based on the news of the day, not by—never mind, I’m not gonna go there.” Then he did.
Words are the currency I carry, words are what I live by, words are all I have, but in the face of this and this and this, I’m starting to wonder if the words truly do matter. Do people die any differently if Matt Lauer calls it something else? Are people here more likely to pay attention if it’s a civil war, instead of a regular war, or an insurgency, or any of the other ways it’s been called since the invasion?
We name things to understand them. We name things to sort them out, to find out where they fit in relation to us and to each other. We name things to put them in their place.
In the case of Iraq, I’m not sure “civil war” is enough to make sense of it.