Breaking News: This Is An Exclusive Blog Post

Michael Moynihan writes about a journalistic practice that annoys the hell out of me too, the overuse of terms like “exclusive” and “breaking news” to promote usually mundane and non-exclusive stories. It’s especially ridiculous when a news outlet refers to an “exclusive interview” of someone who has been making the rounds of all the big news outlets, giving interviews. If the subject has done 14 interviews this week, your interview isn’t “exclusive.”

What follows are a list of words routinely employed by journalists that must, to again invoke Orwell, be committed to the “memory hole.”

Exclusive: Possibly the most misused word in journalism, and one that should be used only when an interview subject submits to questioning by your news organization and no other, often on specific topic (Lance Armstrong’s chat with Oprah qualifies as an exclusive). The Oxford English Dictionary defines “exclusive” as something “in which others have no share, esp. of journalistic news or other published matter.”

So there is ABC News’s Diane Sawyer advertising an exclusive preview of a forthcoming exclusive interview with President Obama. An odd thing, too, considering it is the president’s responsibility to convey to the country his views on various policy issues, which he does frequently. Indeed, the Nexis archives are littered with “exclusive” interviews with the Obamas, sometimes occurring within weeks of each other and covering similar topics.

And this one:

Walked it back: If a politician or public figure is caught lying, journalists will likely employ the gentle euphemism that a statement has been “walked back.” Avoid if possible; the phrase “[x] was caught lying and sheepishly acknowledged it” is preferable.

Absolutely. And this applies not only to lying but just plain saying something stupid. I also wish the media would stop claiming someone apologized when they didn’t. “I apologize to anyone I may have offended” is not an apology. An apology requires recognizing that you said or did something wrong or bad and being sorry for your behavior, not for the reactions of others.

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  • eric

    Of lesser social importance but in the same vein, it annoys the heck out of me to hear TV stations advertise their replays of old movies as exclusive or “first time.” The fact that your particular network in this one particular region of the country has not yet shown Star Wars on TV, does not mean its exclusive. Not even if you’re showing DVD extras. And calling it an “encore presentation” when you re-run the same movie over and over again? Equally lame. We know you bought the rights to show it for a week-long block of time and are using it to fill air time. Just admit it.

  • Another one is the “Once in a lifetime opportunity” that seems to come around every 2 or 3 years.

  • Michael Heath

    I like your position on calling a lie a lie given that’s been my position for many years now (not that you’re a recent convert). Anderson Cooper did just that a couple of weeks ago and it startled me out of my lethargic viewing.

    About the only time I hear such rhetoric is when a partisan is correctly describing the behavior of an opponent. Or when a liar is caught lying and attempts to avoid or deny their lies by projecting their behavior onto their accusers – projection – a bipartisan affliction. We’ll get it right when we use the term regardless of where we sit relative to the person whose behavior we accurately describe.

    In a recent post I also liked how you described attempts to legally force some females to undergo vaginal probes to do an ultrasound, “legally sanctioned rape“. Calling lies “lies” and rape “rape” could wake a few more people up, I think such rhetoric helped when this was first attempted awhile back. Cite on the post:

  • Sastra

    This is surely a groundbreaking blog post with some breakthrough information!


  • jamessweet

    Heh, funny, I just was scratching my head over the “exclusive” one the other day. Can’t remember the story, but it was something that was ALL OVER the news, and one place I was reading about it said it was an “exclusive” story. I was like… in what way exactly? heh…

  • naturalcynic

    According to the narcissistic logic of the Fourth Estate, if Diane Sawyer is doing a one-on-one interview with the president, nobody else is doing the interview, everybody else is shut out … so there. Neener, neener, neener. The president can then appear on Letterman for another exclusive chat, or the same for Jon Stewart, or have another exclusive with Brian Williams or even Hannity [now that would be exclusive]. If nobody else is there, it’s exclusive.

  • baal

    Eh, it shows why comparative or (better) descriptive language + reasonable limited conclusions should be the focus of discussions. Once you’re up in the superlatives, there isn’t really anymore linguistic room other than pile on. We see examples of this all the time by the bizarre and often mutually contradictory adjectives applied to Obama. I could find other less palatable (but still valid) examples from other places that are generally accorded respect from the commentators here.

  • Abby Normal

    Similar to Eric, the overuse of “premier” is one of my pet peeves. I don’t care if this is the first time your network has broadcast It’s a Wonderful Life this year. It’s not special. It’s the same movie that’s been broadcast a million times before. It’s not a premier.

  • Michael Heath

    jamessweet writes:

    I just was scratching my head over the “exclusive” one the other day. Can’t remember the story, but it was something that was ALL OVER the news, and one place I was reading about it said it was an “exclusive” story.

    I think “exclusive” pretty much sails past without me noticing. About the only time I recall it being used is when Ed ridicules WND for their so-called exclusives; read: ads dressed up as stories or stories no credible venue would publish.

  • A few I’d like to see retired:

    “Literally” when used to mean “still figuratively, but really intense”.

    “Thrown under the bus”. This one just gets overused. We need a new metaphor for when a public figure scapegoats someone else.

    “Bipartisanship”. I hate it when the beltway media treats this like it’s a laudable goal in and of itself. A bad idea doesn’t get better just because members from both parties sign on to it.

  • slc1

    Here’s some breaking news. The British Parliament has just voted to approve same sex marriage.

  • slc1

    Re #11

    Actually, the linked article was written in advance of the vote. Here’s a link to an article on the actual vote which was overwhelmingly in favor.

  • martinc

    The only truly exclusive interview of recent times was Clint Eastwood’s interview of President Obama at the Republican National Convention. Clint really knows how to exclude.

  • Trickster Goddess

    If anyone does use “Breaking news” there has to be a time limit to its use: One morning I saw a story on CNN listed as “breaking news”. I tuned in again 16 hours later and they were still calling it “breaking news”.

    However, the news cliche that really grinds my teeth is when they say something “changed their life forever!”

    – as opposed to changing their life temporarily?

    – no one lives forever

    – the only thing that changes your life forever is dying

    – and it is especially ridiculous using it for someone who is still a teenager

  • Moggie

    As long as we’re having a general whinge about journalistic language, one phrase I’d like to never see again is “reach out to”. For example: We have reached out to Verizon for a response, but they have yet to reply. You already have variously perfectly good verbs, such as “ask” or “contact”, so why instead write something which sounds like a child wanting a hug from mummy? Stop it now!

  • ““Thrown under the bus”. This one just gets overused. We need a new metaphor for when a public figure scapegoats someone else.

    How about one for each constituency?

    Thrown under the Hummer. (for the chickenhawks)

    Thrown under the Beemer. (for the young corporatists)

    Thrown under the Limo (for the older corporatists)

    Thrown under the Popemobile (for the RCC)

    Thrown under the Prius. (for the tree huggers)

    Thrown under the buggy. (for the Amish)

    Thrown under the Mass Transit vehicle. (for the rest of us!)

  • dingojack

    Trickster Goddess – with the greatest possible respect:

    A few minutes after 6:53pm (local time) on Monday 12 of August 1985, JAL flight 123 slammed into a high ridge of Mount Takamagahara in Japan. Of the 15 Crew and 509 passengers only 4 survived –

    Off duty JAL flight attendant Yumi Ochiai (25), passengers Hiroko Yoshizaki (34), her daughter Mikiko Yoshizaki (8) and Keiko Kawakami (12) who was found jammed in the branches of a tree

    Do you think their lives just reverted back to their former course? Do you think that Keiko Kawakami’s parents and younger sister suddenly returned from the dead? Do you think that solo violinist Diana Yukawa just ‘forgot’ her dad was a passenger on that ill-fated flight?

    Do you think that the huge financial loss that Japan Airlines took (plus the ‘condolence money’ they paid out to the relatives of victims) and the benefit to their rivals, All Nippon Airlines, just vanished away? Do you think that the stairs up 5,135ft of steep mountain-side to the crash site (paid for by the Japanese Government) have just disappeared? And do you seriously think that the hours and hours of investigation into the reasons behind the greatest single-aircraft loss of life has had absolutely no results?


    Accidents sure can change lives forever, not just of those caught up in the disaster itself.


  • Trickster Goddess

    Dingo, I’m not saying people’s lives aren’t changed, sometimes in major ways and with life-long effects. I’m objecting to the use of the word ‘forever’. It is just ridiculous hyperbole, like saying that someone’s life was ‘infinitely different’ after an event.